Your favourite local restaurant is probably going to change…

Continuing off my posts from yesterday and the day previous, these are my thoughts on what a full service restaurant may need to do to survive in the age of COVID-19.

Is this the shape of things to come? Not entirely. Perhaps for new restaurant builds when they pick up. Instead the current race is on for existing restaurants to transition into an entirely new business model. This is going to be tricky and quite frankly not many restaurants are going to survive. However those who are innovative enough and embracing for change might be able to pull it off.

COVID-19 has become synonymous with social distancing. Which in the hospitality industry is akin to suicide. The point of any restaurant is to essentially put as many people into your establishment per square foot that is acceptable by law, feed them, then have them leave and repeat the process as many times as you can in a night. COVID-19 has turned that model on it’s head.

With social distancing guidelines, restaurants are forced to forego as much as 50 to 75% of their floor space for new social distancing measures. To make up the loss in revenue, restaurants will need to reexamine their models. Restaurants with a smaller footprint might be able to make do with less floor space if they are able to augment it with takeout. Larger footprint restaurants will need to find a way to use left over space to their advantage.

One solution that has been toted about, is to have small pre made meal kits of the restaurants top sellers ready and available for families to take home. Having them ready to take out for customers in a separate ‘market’ area of your restaurant can ensure social distancing guidelines. The sit down restaurant area, can be used by the executive chef to try out new menu ideas and experiment with new items, in exchange for a higher price tag on the menu.

In said dining area, of course social distancing guidelines will be enforced. One trend that is picking up steam is the use of smartphone apps to allow customers to peruse a menu without having to worry about contracting the virus through shared items. Companies such as TouchBistro and Presto are already beginning to introduce affordable technology to help restaurants become safer. Companies like MyDigiMenu provide QR code’s to be scanned bringing up your menu allowing customers to view items, and send their orders to the back of house to be prepared.

Which brings me to my next point. Wait staff will probably become less noticeable. It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but restaurants may have to find a way to operate without their regular wait staff. With requirements of 2 meter social distancing, its hard to have a wait staff constantly check in on your table. The goal is limit the spread of the disease, which means as minimal as possible interaction with your customers. Technology will have to pull its weight and fill in the gap. Wait staff will essentially be used to traffic meals from the kitchen to the tables. One day technology might allow customers to signal via their smartphone to the back requesting a top up of water or a replacement utensil. However, in the meantime, it means wait staff will probably not be the first contact customers might have with a restaurant.

So what does that mean for a hospitality industry that can no longer be hospitable as usual? It means establishing your brand early and sticking to it. Sit down restaurants will become a more formal occasion, only reserved for the most special of occasions. For restaurants competing for such patronage, the race will be on to establish their brand as one of innovative menu options, freshly made and changing, in an environment that customers feel safe to dine in. Clean and without the fear of contamination.

This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch. And I reserve the right to be proved wrong in the long term. However, I firmly believe that for the hospitality industry to survive, increased dependence on technology as the intermediary between host and customer will happen. Innovation and creativity will take care of the rest. It’s definitely an uphill battle, but if the industry wishes to survive COVID-19, it’s one it must win.

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