Restaurants Will Be Forever Changed by COVID-19. Here’s What the Future May Hold for the Industry.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop around the world, one thing has become abundantly clear. The world after the virus has passed will be fundamentally different in many ways from the world we knew before infection rates and death tolls became a familiar part of our television screens.

One of the first industries to receive a near knock-out blow, as it became clear that public gatherings were now a danger to society, was the restaurant industry. Dining rooms were closed, workers were laid off, and owners were left with a suddenly obsolete service model and no way to pay the rent and utilities for the foreseeable future.

What happened (and continues to happen) since is a real-time tutorial in adaptation. Delivery and takeout quickly became the norm, and not just for fast food. Techniques and procedures were developed and refined to ensure food could be exchanged as safely and in as sanitary a manner as possible. “Contactless Delivery” was suddenly a thing, and it’s what everyone wanted.

As accustomed as we may come to this level of change, the fact is that, eventually, we’ll find our way into the post-COVID world in which people are no longer locked into their homes, and the “out” will be returned to “dining out.” But will the dining universe simply return to life as it was before the virus? It seems unlikely. Let’s explore some of the ways in which the restaurant industry is likely to have evolved as a result of COVID-19.

Cleanliness is next to everything

In a post-COVID world, it’s safe to say that even those who never gave such things a second thought in the past will have evolved into confirmed germaphobes. If they’re not convinced that your establishment is clean and sanitized, they’re simply going to eat somewhere else. Whereas restaurants with too many health code violations have always been closed, and their trespasses laid bare to the general public, the post-virus public will not be so willing to wait that long to find out about those who fail to comply with sanitary standards.

This may result in increased government regulation and inspection. Cleanliness and compliance scores may be made more readily available to the public. Online rating sites like Yelp will become much more focussed on cleanliness than ever before.

You’ll want to keep things clean, and you’ll want the public to SEE you keeping things clean. In addition to that, there are also a multitude of other sanitary measures that may be taken to make it clear to customers that your priority is a sanitary dining experience. Some of these measures might include:

  • Cleaning of POS terminals between uses
  • Keeping utensils, condiments, and napkins behind the counter to be distributed upon request
  • Frequent use of hand sanitizer and a change of gloves after each customer interaction
  • Cleaning of credit cards each time they change hands
  • Easily accessible hand sanitizer stations for the use of customers

No detail is too small. The more obvious it is that cleanliness is priority one, the more comfortable your clientele and the better the chances that they’ll keep coming back for more.

Would you like that to go?

As mentioned above, takeout and delivery were, and continue to be, the closest thing to a savior that the restaurant industry can hope for during the COVID crisis, and this sudden growth of off-premise dining won’t go away any time soon when the crisis has ended. A contact-shy public is not going to rush back into the dining rooms as though nothing ever happened.

A recent Harris Poll finds that only 13% of the public are likely to resume eating out immediately upon reopening, 28% plan to return within 30 days, and 25% will wait two to three months. What does this mean? It means that simply reopening isn’t going to be a magical solution to the industry’s woes.

Convenient and efficient delivery and takeout service are not just a stop-gap offering. Get used to them now, because they’re going to remain status quo well beyond the final mention of COVID on the evening news. As difficult as it may be to offer radically new conveniences to the dining public, it’s even harder to take them away.

Interior design

And, perhaps the biggest post-COVID change will involve alterations in the design and layout of dining rooms to accommodate new standards for social distancing.

It’s a change that will not only add to initial overhead, as rooms are perhaps broken up into smaller areas or barriers are erected to more effectively separate diners from each other. It will also decrease revenues as tables are removed to increase distancing, thus significantly reducing the earning capacity of the establishment.

Perhaps the uptick in delivery and takeout can help make up for that loss, or perhaps prices will have to be raised to compensate. But whatever the changes or consequences, it’s safe to say that the ability to adapt will remain a necessity for any restaurant that wants to survive in the new post-COVID world.