5 Predictions from Operators About the Industry After COVID
Jan 28, 2021
It’s been almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic swept through the U.S. and restaurant operators have had to adjust to fast-changing regulations and customer preferences. There’s no doubt that the changes made during COVID will carry on into the future, even once the country goes back to “normal.” What are some of the trends that restaurant operators and researchers see continuing post-pandemic?
1. More diverse program offerings
In order to stay afloat, many restaurants have expanded their program offerings to have a more diverse revenue stream.
“With all the rules of COVID constantly changing, we’re not doing inside dining anymore and we’re doing more takeaway. To-go food is definitely a big part of the future and for us to stay in the game, we are doing more different kinds of takeaway. We also want to teach more people how to cook. We have a recipe website with recipes from my book so we’re doing more of that as well."—Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri
Jaisinghani and her team at Pondicheri have not only ramped up takeout and delivery, but also expanded their online ordering to have a pantry section. They’re selling ingredients and recipe kits so that they can still engage customers with their brand through virtual cooking classes and recipes for when patrons cook at home. These kinds of mixed business models will continue into the future.
2. More contact-free technology
According to a recent report from Technomic on the evolution of restaurant technology in 2020, “51% of operators surveyed already have contactless payment, while 31% plan on implementing contactless payment.”
Even once people are ready to go out and eat in restaurants, restaurant operators foresee the rising popularity of contactless and frictionless ordering and payment processes as guests remain vigilent about cleanliness. Implementing new technologies that allow customers to order on their phone or on a kiosk will continue to rise in popularity post-pandemic.
3. More streamlined operations
Restaurant owners were already financially strapped in pre-COVID times, but coming out of COVID, owners are going to be looking for operational efficiencies in as many places as possible. Like Guajardo, operators will be looking for ways to reduce costs like rent, utilities, and labor. Using a ghost kitchen to operate multiple concepts out of one location is a great way to streamline operations.
“We launched By the Bay BBQ and Southern Eatery as a Virtual Concept. We created online ordering and pages on all the third-party platforms and cooked everything out of our other restaurant Seaside Seafood & Market. But we kept receiving calls from our customers on Yelp! trying to find our location. So we decided to launch a BBQ pop-up on Sundays at the location. This allowed customers to order on site as well as delivery.
“We now operate By the Bay BBQ out of the Seaside Seafood & Market space full-time. When customers come to order food for takeout, they get two menus, one from each of the restaurants operating out of the same location. This helps double the marketing as we get in front of new customers for both concepts every day.”—Anthony Guajardo, Mijo’s Taqueria & By the Bay BBQ.
4. More closures
It is clear that without more specific support, independent restaurants will continue to close while large chains, such as Texas Roadhouse, will continue to make gains.
“I am no expert on what restaurants or the industry will look like post-COVID. That said, I often refer to myself as a realist, and the reality is likely 100,000+ small independent restaurants, eateries, cafes, coffee shops, and bars will close in 2020 and 2021. The outcome could be a fairly homogeneous, chain-restaurant industry throughout the U.S. Don't get me wrong, there will be eager upstart independent restaurants and bars hoping to fill the void. Although, investors and landlords may be wary of the risks associated with small independent businesses, whereas
large chains have the financial backing and clout to provide assurances to landlords and developers.”—Remi McManus, KIN
This sentiment is echoed across many independent restaurant owners, most notably by the Independent Restaurant Coalition that has been lobbying for an independent-restaurant-specific stimulus.
5. Positive cultural changes
“2020 and COVID proved to be a severe reckoning for the restaurant industry. COVID not only wreaked havoc, but was also the spark that ignited many other fires that are burning through our industry. Rampant racism, abuse, and inequality have all been exposed. The landscape as we know it has already changed. We are now at a crossroads and the next steps we take will help define the future of the industry. Out of all of this, we have seen how resilient and ingenious we are as a community. I have to remain optimistic and positive because this is my dream, like many others. Many people have believed in me and helped support this crazy journey to achieve my goals, so it is only fair to give back 110%. I believe that we will see a change in the current way we see how restaurants are run. Positive changes in work/life balance, less toxicity in the workplace, actual financial equality and support for all employees.”—Carlo Lamagna, Magna Kusina
Until a vaccine is widely distributed, restaurant operators will have to continue to pivot and adjust to the challenges presented by coronavirus. Rules and regulations for restaurants will likely continue to be a roller coaster for owners and operators. Customer behavior and preferences will continue to be dictated by public health measures.
But one thing is clear: restaurants will also continue to be integral parts of their communities through the pandemic, and owners are committed to providing hospitality after the virus is under control. Like Lamagna says, “These are just a few things that we will see. Our hope is that customers will appreciate and see the industry for all that it gives and how valuable it truly is.”