As COVID curves continue to flatten in some places while spiking in others, it can be hard to imagine a time when the coronavirus has finally passed—and yet, thankfully, that post-COVID time will surely come. Just as surely, though, the way much of the world does business will remain permanently changed as a result of the pandemic.
Related post: COVID-19 Updates
The restaurant industry, of course, has been more impacted than many other areas of the economy. Service industries in general now find themselves dealing with a host of requirements, guidelines and mandates designed to keep all of us safer in a highly contagious world.
But when the therapeutics have multiplied and the vaccines have launched, how will restaurant service continue to be affected? What sorts of changes will have to remain in place?
In previous posts, we’ve explored what the restaurant industry may look like once we’ve effectively flattened all the curves. But in a recent article written for Restaurant Technology News, OneDine founder Rom Krupp brings up a specific consideration that he thinks will need to be addressed.
“The pandemic will pass,” says Krupp. “But the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. So, too, will people who are at high risk of catching it whether from age, or from being immunocompromised, or any other number of risk factors.
Once the virus is no longer at peak levels, but those customers remain, how do we serve them in a way that makes them feel safe and healthy?”
In fact, Krupp sees the coronavirus “almost as a compliance event.” He compares it to the adaptations required by the restaurant industry and others when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Handicapped ramps were installed, braille menus were provided, and more steps were taken to ensure that differently abled people weren’t forced to feel as though they can’t participate in commerce.
These measures were rightfully taken to serve six to seven percent of the population, Krupp notes.
But, ”if 15-20 percent of the population remains at high-risk for COVID until there’s a proven vaccine,” it will become necessary to provide specialized service options for those consumers as well if we want to fully open our economy for all to participate.
Of course, adapting to the differing needs of new or newly recognized consumer segments is not unprecedented in the restaurant industry. As stated above, the Americans with Disabilities Act was just one major example.
Over the years, however, the industry has also made steps to include vegetarian and gluten-free menu items for those who require or prefer them. While these changes came about over a relatively long period of time as awareness of such dietary needs became more well known, the post-virus needs of immunocompromised diners will require a more nimble response.
So, what sorts of adjustments might be necessary to accommodate this newly emerged dining demographic for the long term?
In a post-COVID world, it’s safe to say that much of the general public will remain somewhat, shall we say, germophobic. If they’re not convinced that your establishment is clean and sanitized, they’re simply going to eat somewhere else. This will be even more of a concern for those who remain at higher risk for contracting COVID.
In general, you’ll obviously want to keep things clean—and you’ll want the public to see you keeping things clean. But for the COVID-susceptible among us, it may become necessary to provide special “sanitary zones” where even more stringent sanitary measures are maintained. While many precautions that are currently commonplace will no doubt be relaxed in a post-COVID environment these sanitary zones might maintain such measures as:
- Proper social distancing
- Masks required to be worn by servers
- 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 customer use
While the extent to which customers in general expect to remain contactless will likely subside over time, much of the technology put in place to help facilitate social distancing between server and diner will remain as the dining public becomes accustomed to the added convenience it provides.
For the immunocompromised, it will remain a necessity.
POS-integrated solutions like OneDine’s offer easy initial setup and data-driven insights to make your operations more efficient and your service more personalized as well as contact-free—all with no app required.
Guests can easily browse the menu, order, and pay right from their table on their mobile device without having to wait for a server to visit them.
Not only is unnecessary contact eliminated and service streamlined, but guests can also receive customized recommendations by inputting their dietary preferences, favorite cuisines, dishes, spice levels, and more.
Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”
The ability to adapt is what will get us all through these difficult times. No doubt that ability will remain important as time continues to march forward.