Adapting Post-COVID: What’s Changing For Restaurants?

COVID-19 has left no industry untouched, but none more devastated than the hospitality industry. With the restaurant industry expected to lose up to $240 billion by the end of 2020, the economic effects of the pandemic will be felt for many months – and even years – to come. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with many states and countries heading for reopening as new cases decrease in the U.S. and abroad.

Here’s what will change in restaurants as they rise up to meet the new challenges of a post-COVID world. 

Shifting Delivery and Dine-In Experiences

In a recent Coronavirus-related study, 89 percent of respondents said they felt safer eating food from a grocery store or at home, versus in a restaurant. The report went on to state, “Foodservice operators that can offer a responsible and safe solution should do so recognizing their true competition during these times isn’t other restaurants, but rather the consumer’s own home.”

As consumers begin to eat out again when restaurants reopen, the question will be less about the food, and more so about what steps the restaurant has taken to ensure the health and safety of guests.

As consumers begin to eat out again when restaurants reopen, the question will be less about the food, and more so about what steps the restaurant has taken to ensure the health and safety of guests. So what can restaurants do to adapt their offerings to this changed consumer?

Since the start of the crisis, restaurants affected by mandatory closures have pivoted to delivery and takeout to sustain their businesses, with nearly half of Americans willing to leave home to purchase restaurant meals as long as there is a low or zero-contact way to pick up the orders.

Today, that means restaurants have transformed their dining rooms into safe, no-touch pickup zones, with some even offering drive thru or curbside pickup for the first time. Once they open their doors, restaurants will need to continue to offer direct, contactless and safe delivery and takeout options for guests who are either unwilling or unable to eat on-site.

However, restaurants will also need to address the same health and safety concerns for guests in their dining room as they have for delivery and pick-up. With social distancing guidelines in place and capacity and party size restrictions like we’ve seen outlined in other states, we can expect to see increased spaces between tables, eliminated host stand waiting areas, reductions of bar seats and even entirely new layouts for restaurants that highlight contactless offerings. We will also see a rise in use of virtual waitlist and reservation platforms across restaurants. Many restaurateurs who have previously been hesitant to incorporate these technologies into their front of house experience will revisit the use of these systems, leveraging their tool set to help them manage reduced capacities, minimize crowding and waits around their host stands and bars, and improve turn times to maximize revenue on each table. 

Regardless of how operators update their dining rooms, a focus on the health and safety of the guest is paramount in adapting a restaurant for reopening.

Going Contactless 

As restaurants reopen and consumers return to dining out, guests will be worried about every public surface and interaction within a restaurant, with 38 percent of people saying that they were worried about touching things others have touched, and 28 percent saying it was being near other people that made them nervous. This is where contactless experiences will become an important tool for managing and exceeding guest expectations.

Imagine this: one of your regulars walks into the restaurant. After placing themselves on a virtual waitlist at their apartment, they drive over knowing the host will seat them upon arrival. As soon as they sit down, they read a card on the table that states, ‘Scan this image for access to our digital menu.’ Once they scan the QR code on their mobile phone, they are able to view the full menu, place an order where they add a dairy allergy note for the chef, and pay for the meal at the click of a button, all without interacting with a server or touching a physical menu. As soon as they’re done with their food and drink, they stand up and walk out. From there, your restaurant can seat new people off your waitlist, adding an extra turn (and more revenue) while your restaurant is operating at 50-percent capacity. This guest’s experience was fully contactless from beginning to end — giving them few opportunities to fear that they’ll come in contact with a virus or bug while at your property.

Next weekend, this same guest wants to have a lazy Friday night in and decides to order delivery from your restaurant. Since you already have data on their allergy preferences, the menu they view on their phone has no menu items with dairy. This highly personalized experience can happen inside and outside the dining room — all powered by guest data. With contactless ordering, payments, delivery and more, operators can highly personalize the guest experience whether in-service or online.

Revisiting Tech Stacks to Connect Data

With 71 percent of operators saying they had profit margins under 10 percent in 2019 alone, a focus on dollars and cents will be more crucial than ever post-pandemic. Those that come out the other end of this health crisis will be managing their restaurants with less staff, higher overhead costs, and a laser focus on the health and safety of their guests and staff. This is why it’s more important than ever to revisit the tech stack to ensure each system makes sense for the business.

Where third-party delivery and reservation platforms were once industry standard, we expect to see a ‘direct is best’ revolution. For the first time, we’ll see operators focus on systems that provide them direct access to their guests and their data, a monthly subscription model with no hidden fees or upcharges, and tools that help them capture and leverage data to build exceptional experiences, whether a guest is in the dining room or ordering to their couch.

The solutions that will win will be end-to-end platforms that provide greater insights and opportunities to maximize that data across every part of the guest journey. Connected data will be more crucial to a restaurant’s operations than ever before, offering insights into each interaction the guest has across both dine-in and take-out.

Restaurant operators who think strategically now about how they can update and improve their offerings for consumers, and implement those solutions thoughtfully, will reap the benefits in a post-COVID world.