Like the rest of the world, the restaurant industry is an ever-evolving creature. Technology, demographics, changing culture, and more conspire to make success strategies a constantly moving target. To keep up and stay competitive, even under normal circumstances, you need to be alert and quick on your feet. Most of all, you need to stay informed.
Of course, current circumstances are far from normal. The advent of COVID-19 has thrown a giant monkey wrench into the machinery of virtually every part of the global economy, instantly creating a whole new playing field and changing the rules of the game in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a few months ago.
Considering all this, a discussion of how the restaurant industry is changing becomes much more complicated. On the one hand, you have the general industry trends as they were developing in the lead-up to the COVID pandemic, such as:
- The emergence of millennials as the fastest-growing dining demographic
- The growing influence of single-person households on the volume of restaurant spending
- A trend toward neighborhoods outside of urban centers as food and beverage hotspots
- The significant influence of rapidly evolving technology, including ordering via mobile devices
- The continued and growing focus on social media as a marketing tool
On the other, you have the drastic changes that have come about solely as a result of the pandemic.
While the former trends are still important to keep in mind, the most important focus at the moment has to be the more drastic and pressing changes the virus has brought about that have left the industry as a whole scrambling to keep up.
In a post-COVID world, if customers are 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. The result may be 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 focused 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 a multitude of other sanitary measures that may be taken to convey to customers that your priority is a sanitary dining experience, such as:
- 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
- Well-stocked soap dispensers in restrooms
No detail is too small. The more obvious it is that cleanliness is priority one, the more comfortable your clientele will be, and the better the chances that they’ll keep coming back for more.
Delivery and takeout
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 likely won’t go away quickly once the crisis has ended. A contact-shy public is not going to rush back into 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, efficient, and contactless delivery and takeout service are not just a stop-gap offering. As difficult as it may be to offer radically new conveniences to the dining public, it’s even harder to take them away once the public has become accustomed to them, and they’re going to remain status quo well beyond the final mention of COVID on the evening news.
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 add to initial overhead, as rooms are 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 earning capacity.
Perhaps the uptick in delivery and takeout can help make up for the losses resulting from decreased dining room volume. 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 the most important characteristic of any restaurant that wants to survive in the new post-COVID world.