The White House recently released initial guidelines for easing social distancing requirements in three phases, and ten states have begun developing “reopening” plans which means businesses may start to reopen in some areas within the next few weeks.
Escape Rooms are likely to be one of the first businesses permitted to re-open, given than gatherings of 10 people or fewer are permitted under Phase 1 of the guidelines. However, you’ll still want to make sure that your guests feel comfortable visiting your escape room and that your team members feel safe working there. Doubling down on cleaning is a given, but there are other things you might not have considered yet. Now is the perfect time to start preparing for reopening, so you can maximize your opportunities when guidelines in your state loosen.
How can you get your business ready to reopen while ensuring you and your staff adheres to the health & safety guidelines?
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
The Booking Process
Phase 1 of the White House guidelines seems to permit socializing in groups of 10 people or fewer, which is perfect for an Escape Room: most rooms don’t allow more than eight or 10 guests at a time. However, your guests initially may not feel comfortable cramming into a room with multiple other people who are not part of their immediate party. It would be nearly impossible to keep a six-foot distance from other guests inside an escape room.
Make it easy for guests to book an entire room, or better yet, make it happen automatically.
Instead of selling one ticket at a time, book whole rooms at a time! Set a flat price per time slot, and allow guests to simply book a room for their entire party. No one else will be able to book that room for that time slot, so there’s no chance of guests coming in contact with others who are not in their immediate party. In your ticket description, include information such as the recommended minimum and a maximum number of guests included in the room booking.
If you’re using Passage or EscapeTix as your booking platform, you can set a minimum number of tickets required for each purchase. This will prevent guests from booking just one or two timeslots for a room. Set the minimum at the number of people you recommend to complete your escape room successfully or just the number of guests you need to break even on the cost of operating the room for an hour.
The best way to do this might be through our ticket bundles. Ticket bundles are easy to set up and give you & your guests the most flexibility in booking. For example, create a family bundle which offers guests a discount for purchasing at least four (or maybe six) tickets for one of your rooms. Your guests see a great deal, but you get them to book an entire room in one purchase.
The unfortunate reality of our current situation is some folks may be hesitant to venture out of their homes for social activities even when their states allow it. When you reopen, you may see a gradual ramp-up in business over the next several months rather than a flood of visitors clambering to get back to their regular social routines. One way you can mitigate this is to open with a reduced number of days or hours, then add additional availability as demand increases. If you were previously a Tuesday-Sunday escape room, you may decide you want to try Thursday-Saturday evenings for the first few weeks and see how things go. As word gets out that you’re open, and guests start to feel more comfortable, you can expand your operating hours. This will help keep costs down in the beginning and give you more time to do a deep cleaning on your off-days.
Revisit Your Cancellation Policy
You don’t want guests who are feeling unwell to visit your escape room. Consider updating or revising your cancellation policy, and allow guests who are ill or experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms to reschedule for a later date. You don’t need to offer a refund necessarily: just allowing guests to postpone their visit will help prevent the spread of germs and keep your staff healthy so you can stay open.
Update Your Safety Spiel
Most escape rooms have some kind of verbal announcement of rules at the beginning of each session. This is a good opportunity to incorporate some of your updated policies as well as details about sanitizing/cleaning practices. Have your game master ask guests to verbalize whether they are unwell or have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 within the last 14 days. Tell guests about the hand sanitizer available in your lobby and in each room. This will not only help guests feel more comfortable, but it may also reduce your business’ liability.
Scheduling Your Time Slots
Before the pandemic, if you operated a 60-minute escape room, you likely staggered your reservations to allow for 15-30 minutes in between groups to give your staff time to reset the room. In our new reality, you’ll likely need more time to fully sanitize each room in between parties.
Because every escape room is unique, the only way to really know how much time you’ll need is to practice. Right now, before you open, is a great time to do that. Use a timer or stopwatch to track how long it takes to sanitize all surfaces and properly reset your room(s). Then you’ll know how to stagger your time slots (be sure to leave yourself a buffer, just as you would have before).
Cleaning in Between Groups
Speaking of sanitizing, you probably know by now that your cleaning efforts will need to be dialed up to 11 when you do reopen. Simply resetting the room will not be enough in the age of COVID-19; you’ll need to give each room a thorough cleaning in between every group.
This is probably the trickiest guideline to adhere to because there are so, so many “high-touch” surfaces in an escape room. But it is also the most important. An outbreak among guests who visited your place of business would be devastating.
Most escape rooms have some kind of checklist for game masters resetting the room after each group of guests has finished; this helps make sure all the clues are placed back in their proper home. Use this same strategy when it comes to cleaning; a sanitizing checklist can help your team make sure they’ve covered everything before the next group arrives.
Make sure you have enough of the EPA-recommended cleaning supplies to properly sanitize each room multiple times per day. Again, this is a good thing to do now, before you reopen, so that you’re prepared and ready to go.
It’s not just the rooms themselves which need to be cleaned; don’t forget about your lobby or other common areas like restrooms. Disinfect high-touch surfaces like door handles every day and take time to do a full deep cleaning on your “off” days.
Communication with Guests
The extra health and safety measures you’re taking are important, but it’s equally important that you communicate those efforts to your guests. They need to know you’re acting responsibly so they feel safe visiting your location.
That communication should start before their visit. Include information on your website, so guests can make an informed decision before they book one of your experiences.
As soon as their reservation is confirmed, send an email with information about what to expect during their visit, and include a link back to your web page with this information. Guests who are ill should not visit your business, so be sure to include this information as well as your cancellation and refund policy.
Send a reminder email the day before or the day of their scheduled visit, and include this information again. It might seem like overkill, but remember that your guests have busy lives (just like you do!) and they may need a few reminders. You can schedule messages to go out automatically using our Zapier integration.
Post information on-site in the form of printed posters or digital signage. Remember that one guest may be booking a room for their whole family, so each individual person may not have seen your pre-visit communications.
Additionally, make sure you have a place where guests can wash their hands, or consider installing touch-free sanitizer dispensers in your lobby. You may even want to include some hand sanitizer in each room for guests to use during their games.
Social Distancing in Common Areas
Phase 1 of the White House guidelines dictates that employers “enforce strict social distancing protocols” in common areas where staff are likely to congregate. Escape rooms often have only one or two people working at a time, so the common area you should focus on is really your lobby where guests check-in and wait for their room to be ready.
A simple way to prevent groups of guests from coming in contact with each other would be to stagger your time slots so that only one group should be in the lobby at a time. It might be helpful to add floor markings to help guests maintain a safe distance from your team members or others.
As you prepare to reopen your escape room, there are a few final things you may want to consider. Make sure that you’re thinking about the safety and comfort of your team members, not just your guests, as you incorporate health & safety protocols. You can’t operate without them.
Although the federal government has announced national guidelines for reopening, know that each individual state has its own set of regulations. Familiarize yourself with the rules in your area and make sure you’re following those requirements. Some states require both customers and staff wear some kind of facial covering, for example. Take a look at our COVID-19 Resources page for more information and useful links.
Need help preparing your escape room for reopening? We’re here for you! Reach out to our team and we’ll walk you through it.