What Will Restaurants Look Like After Covid?

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Covid-19 revealed the everyday activities many people take for granted until they’re no longer for an option—like eating out in a restaurant. 

The pandemic has rocked the restaurant industry and showed just how agile it isn’t. Faced with challenges, more than 70,000 restaurants across the U.S. have permanently closed. Restaurants had to quickly pivot to curbside pickup and delivery and adjust their menus and staffing in hopes of staying afloat. Now, several months into the pandemic, we can see how the restaurant industry will be permanently changed by Covid-19. In many cases, the pandemic is a chance for restaurants to innovate and find new, creative ways to serve customers. 

These five main changes show how restaurants must adapt to the Covid-19 era and how they can leverage changes to improve the customer experience. 

Focus On Health And Safety

Restaurants have always had to pass health inspections, but a greater focus on cleanliness and health is forcing restaurants to double-down on their efforts. Zagat’s Future of Dining Study found that 3 in 4 diners say health and safety concerns are their biggest deterrent to dining out in person. 

Diners are looking for restaurants to be transparent about their cleanliness procedures, so restaurants must use clear optics of what they are doing to keep diners safe. Customers are looking for things like single-use menus, disposable silverware, signs placed on tables that have been sanitized, hand sanitizing stations and employees wearing masks. How the food is served will also be affected, with diners preferring individual or pre-packaged meals instead of family-style dining.

Restaurants will likely need to invest in new cleaning supplies and training to teach employees new procedures, as well as marketing and signage to inform diners of the new procedures. 

Increased Digital Offerings

Like most other industries, restaurants have experienced rapid digital acceleration. Throughout the pandemic, restaurants with a strong digital presence, such as easy online or mobile ordering or a robust digital loyalty program, have seen increased engagement with customers. Most signs point to customers staying digitally engaged after the pandemic. 

Restaurants will continue to move to frictionless ordering and payment with an increase in online and mobile orders for pickup and delivery. Even inside restaurants, diners will order their own food on tablets or kiosks to limit their exposure to employees and payment devices. The restaurant industry is ripe for technological innovation— anything from digital menus to tableside ordering and guest engagement apps can transform the dining experience to match new customer trends. 

But in order to accommodate these trends, restaurants must invest in new technology, which can be costly. To preserve the safety of customers and employees and stay relevant, however, it might be a required cost for post-Covid-19 restaurants. 

Creative and Changed Menus

Aside from the actual dining experience, Covid-19 has impacted restaurant supply chains and made it difficult for some restaurants to source their normal ingredients. During the height of the pandemic, many restaurants trimmed their menus to their best-selling items and are now re-evaluating their original menu options. 

Restaurants are moving to more local ingredients and innovative uses for the same ingredients. Menu items are also shifting towards smaller portions, which are not only less expensive for diners during strange economic times, but also aren’t as time-consuming to eat, which makes for a quicker dining experience with less chance of exposure. 

Restaurant offerings will also change to include non-traditional options. The Zagat Survey found that 38% of consumers have ordered non-traditional delivery items from restaurants, including meal kits, grocery items and alcoholic beverages, and 59% of consumers will continue to do so after the pandemic. Restaurants that innovate their offerings beyond their typical menu items can tap into a new group of customers who want the restaurant experience in a unique way. 

Push For Takeout And Delivery

Takeout orders increased dramatically during the pandemic, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. Before Covid-19, 69% of consumers ordered delivery, but that number has grown to a staggering 88% during the pandemic. Even if customers aren’t ready to dine in person, 82% of them will still order delivery or takeout from a restaurant. Diners have had meals delivered to their doors for months, so now many are less inclined to leave their homes to dine in a restaurant, even when it is safe to do so. 

Now that restaurants have had more than six months to perfect their carry-on and delivery procedures, customers expect a fairly seamless transaction. Clear signage and fast service make for a quality pickup or delivery experience. And with more delivery options than ever before, diners have alternatives if their chosen restaurant doesn’t offer a smooth experience. Many restaurants have partnered with third-party delivery companies and established physical measures, such as drive-thru lanes dedicated to picking up online and mobile orders. Dedicating space and resources to pickup and delivery could be a major boost for restaurants. 

Changed Physical Spaces

With more diners choosing takeout and delivery options, restaurants will have to change their inside spaces. Social distancing guidelines are likely to stick around for quite some time, causing many restaurants to make permanent changes to the number of people who can fit inside at once. We’ll see fewer tables spread out through restaurant interiors and less bar and open seating. 

With the growth of takeout and delivery, many restaurants will reduce the footprint of their dining room to dedicate more space for cooking and preparing orders. Many restaurants are switching to the ghost kitchen model of using their kitchens to prepare food for pickup and delivery without a physical dining room. 

Outside, restaurants are expanding their dining options and converting grassy areas and streets to outside dining pavilions. Outdoor dining is the biggest factor in diners returning to in-person restaurants. What started as haphazard picnic tables in the parking lot will turn into permanent fixtures of restaurants. As the weather cools, restaurants will find creative solutions to maintain outdoor dining for as long as possible in ways that are comfortable for diners and employees. 

How Brands Can Adapt

Covid-19 has shown that restaurants can’t stay stagnant. They must always be looking for ways to innovate their service, menu and experience. Restaurants need to stay in tune with what matters to customers and alter their experiences accordingly, such as lowering menu prices or offering incentives or digital ordering and payment. In the post-Covid-19 world, that often means investing in new supplies, training and physical upgrades. But those costs could lead to long-term success, and restaurants can’t afford not to change. 

Restaurants must stay agile in everything from their staffing to their supply chain. Focusing on cleanliness and delivering a reliable, trustworthy experience will keep customers coming back long after the pandemic is over.

Source: What Will Restaurants Look Like After Covid? (forbes.com)

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