As long as humans have roamed the earth, we have participated in the communal activity of sharing meals. Togetherness is part of the human experience, as is sitting down to eat. When you combine the two, you get the perfect evening out – or, at least, that used to be the case.
The global health pandemic caused by COVID-19 has changed our lives in every way imaginable. And while initial shelter-in-place orders are beginning to ease, we are still looking at social and economic uncertainty for the foreseeable future.
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to stay safe, sanitary, and socially distanced. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of failed restaurants, but not all of them can pivot their operations. Working remotely isn’t an option, and the more high-end the establishment is, the less viable it is to change tack.
The virus has impacted every corner of the economy, but none has been hit harder than the food and entertainment sectors. According to financial giant UBS, one in five restaurants in the USA will not survive the pandemic. Because of the massive, sweeping changes to how we dine out, many food-oriented operations are faced with permanent closure. Independent owners will be the hardest hit, which may very well spell trouble for your favorite mom-and-pop-shops and small eateries.
Is Social Dining Gone for Good?
Amidst the financial chaos, our social lives have also suffered. We can’t just go out to brunch with our friends or beer and nachos with our work buddies. We can’t dine at a restaurant with our families, or sit around laughing and joking with our best friends over a pizza. When we lose our restaurants, we lose a place of community, of joy and togetherness. A meal isn’t just a meal. More often than not, it’s a way to connect that goes beyond the food.
Businesses are already in the process of recalibrating their daily operations. We’re seeing a huge jump in restaurants offering take-out options, delivery, and curbside pickup.
While we all have concerns, the questions on everybody’s minds include how and when will we be able to dine out anywhere? And how do dining establishments plan to accommodate new health and safety regulations to keep us safe?
Cleanliness is Key
If you are a business getting ready to reopen, nothing is more important than communicating to customers that you take health and sanitation very seriously. To establish trust, restaurants will have to be much more involved and proactive about their cleaning processes. A cursory wipe with a damp rag simply won’t cut it anymore. The restaurants that thrive will be the ones that show their clientele that the utmost care is being taken to sanitize their space. Rather than hiding the “unsightly” sanitation process, the act of cleaning may turn into dinner and a show.
Nothing to Hide
Ever wondered what’s going on in a restaurant’s back-of-house? This question is sure to be on everyone’s mind as dining spaces reopen. We may see more customers opting to eat at establishments where they can see exactly how their food is being prepared and cooked with their own two eyes. Your restaurant’s transparency is the touchstone of trust.
Changes to Health Regulations
Health regulations are changing day by day, so it’s impossible to say exactly what the future may look like. However, it’s highly likely that masks and gloves will be required in the cooking and dining areas. Self-serve buffets will no doubt be a thing of the past. Everything will need to be well sanitized at all times. Disposable plates and cutlery are likely, and public washrooms will need to be sanitized between each use. Establishments will have to be current with the latest health and safety regulations at all times, ensuring that they are conveying the appropriate information to their staff members and clientele.
Don’t Sit So Close to Me!
We might see patrons paying a premium for the luxury of extra space. Gone are the days of customers packed into a noisy bistro like sardines. Restaurants will likely reduce their capacity by about 50 percent to maintain social distancing between customers. While it’s in the best interests of public health, this is sure to take its toll on earnings, so we might also see service charges or higher menu prices to cover the additional costs of doing business.
Even before the pandemic broke, the meal delivery model was picking up steam. At-home delivery services like GrubHub and Skipthedishes are thriving during the pandemic, which is good for us at home, but not necessarily great for restaurants. Most people don’t realize that these third-party services take about 30 percent of the sale, cutting substantially into an already small profit margin. The delivery-only restaurant model eliminates the risk of a crowded dining environment and allows restaurateurs to keep their dining room open, but it’s not entirely sustainable.
The ability to make tap payments has been a massive boon during the pandemic, and many retailers are following the trend. Digital wallet services like Apple Pay and Google Wallet are exploding in popularity, and are an ideal alternative to handling cash.
Even though the future is uncertain, humans are primed to thrive in the face of adversity, and this is a chance for us to reinvent the way we share our meals. The spirit of innovation will push us all to overcome the struggles of COVID-19, and these strategies will help restaurateurs and diners everywhere adapt to the ‘new normal.’ Until we can dine together again, we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got, but in the meantime, if your favorite restaurant is offering take out, do your part to keep their doors open. Order often, and pick up yourself, if you can.