Is it over yet?
Not just quite but we can already see some effects of COVID-19 in the hospitality industry, especially restaurants. One would say: nothing will ever be the same. Nevertheless, these effects shouldn’t be considered as dramatic and apocalyptic. Just as in any other analysis, there are both pros and cons. Let’s observe some of the established ones that emerged in the restaurant industry in the past year – and won’t fade away any time soon:
Customer Habits Have Changed, Undeniably
First of all, with so many people still working from home and taking regular video calls instead of meetings, breakfast and lunch demand has significantly dropped. Diners finally realized how much they can actually save by not eating out. They have learned to navigate the grocery aisles and mastered basic cooking techniques and there is no going back. While daily specials delivered in family boxes might be quite affordable and frugal, food delivery itself often costs more than the meal for one which can hit monthly discretionary spending quite hard. Not to mention that after practicing social distancing for over a year, not everyone will be thrilled to go back to tight seating arrangements indoors.
Online Ordering Will Continue to Thrive
Yes, because food lovers find it convenient and exciting to tap around the menus on their smartphones followed by curbside parking, in-store pickups during walks in the neighborhood or simple home-delivery. Customers will continue to do so because they have grown to enjoy the process including selecting their favorite dishes peacefully online and using contactless payment systems while not having to stress over face masks and personal space disruption. After all, comfort comes first.
Restaurants will have to continue providing exceptional service in terms of technology, too. Owners and managers should follow the latest tech trends in the industry and train their staff to use new software in order to keep catering to customers although they might be off-premises. The COVID-19 pandemic forced both sides to embrace new digital communication tools for making reservations and placing orders. They mustn’t be discarded once the pandemic is officially over since tech savvy foodies, introverts and efficiency enthusiasts are thrilled that such tools are finally a thing. Basically, both sides benefit from new technology.
Make the Most Out of Data
Another advantage that social distancing has brought to restaurants is all the guest data collected via the restaurant management software. Restaurant owners have learned that such data is a priceless resource for improving customer relationships and, ultimately, increasing profits. Once a guest leaves their full name, email and phone number along with possible allergens and specific requests, the staff will be able to meet their needs anytime and thus win guest parties over and over again. POS systems already collect most of information on sales, inventories, staff, etc. automatically and turn them into invaluable reports. Restaurant owners will continue collecting that data and increase their reliance on powerful analytics to understand trends and enhance the guest experience long after the pandemic is over.
Chains Becoming Even More Powerful
Unfortunately, this was an inevitable one. Any small, independent restaurant that survived the previous 365 days should be awarded a Michelin star solely for perseverance. Apart from always being more profitable, large fast casual chains could exploit the situation and simply buy out the out-of-business bistros located at the nicest downtown corners. With upscale décor, fancy worded menus and strict quality and safety control, they will easily dominate over the family-owned, less organized, struggling ones. Such restaurants will definitely thrive from risk averse diners who prefer to feel safe at all costs.
However, all this mess and anxiety couldn’t beat the exceptional human resourcefulness and efficiency. From QR menus to curbside pickups, restaurateurs had to rethink and redesign everything in order to adapt and still be able to provide satisfactory service to their regulars in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They became even more cost-efficient, food waste conscious and generally more responsible.
Last but not least, they kept their culinary creativity and came up with dishes more suitable for delivery and their own inventory whilst trying to stay in business through all the lockdowns and restrictions. The entire industry faced an immense transformation and it would be foolish not to continue with best practices after we finally get out of it.