The onset of COVID-19 changed the restaurant world over the past year in unimaginable ways. Sadly, according to Forbes Magazine, more than 70,000 eating and drinking establishments didn't survive 2020.
Being able to make a pivot quickly was something that restaurants had to do to stay open. A lot of those changes implemented seem to be here to stay. Here's how the restaurant market segment has changed and where it's headed.
Off-Premise Food Consumption
Even as some states are slowly re-opening and restaurants in those areas can open their businesses to on-site service, customers are still trending towards consuming their orders off-premises. Fine dining, family dining, quick service, and coffee & snack establishments all reported that their off-site sales had been the larger portion of sales than before COVID levels. Zagat released their Future of Dining Study, which shows that before COVID began, 69% of customers had ordered food to go. That number increased to 88% as the pandemic continued.
Contactless Pickup Trends Up
With such a significant increase in off-site food consumption, many restaurants had to change since takeout wasn't previously a source of revenue for them. One of the most significant changes is with contactless pickup.
Contactless pickup happens when a customer places a to-go order and pays in advance. They then head to a location to receive their food. At some establishments, that means staying in your car, parking in a pre-determined spot, and opening your trunk to have staff put in the food. Sometimes it's ordering through an app and going to a location where there is a self-service pickup cabinet that can be opened with a smartphone. According to Business Wire, 85% of shoppers said they'd increased curbside pickup since the pandemic began, and 79% say having a contactless pickup option is very important to them. Whatever the method, contactless and curbside pickup helps make customers feel they're engaging in a safer way to pick up food.
Health and Safety of Employees and Customers
Customers aren't quite ready to return to eating in restaurants, even as there is excitement to get back out to spending time with others. The Zagat study found that 3 out of 4 diners said the most significant thing holding them back from dining out again is health and safety. Restaurants continue to follow CDC guidelines to make things safer for customers, which, if posted, can help make customers more comfortable. From touchless menus to hands-free pickup cabinets to soda machines operated by a phone app, restaurants are implementing many ways to limit contact with food to ensure a safer food supply chain. Establishments can also install touchless payment options, along with touchless door openers, faucets, and paper towel dispensers for staff and customers' safety.
Changes In Menu Offerings
Another thing sure to change is the items offered on restaurant menus. Buffets and salad bar establishments took an enormous hit when the pandemic began, and some will never return. Even locations like casinos or hotels that have a buffet or salad bar alongside other menu items will need to adjust. Family style and places that encouraged plate sharing will also have to revamp their menus to a setup that will make consumers feel more comfortable. Also rethinking items that might take longer to prepare and that increase wait times might be off the table to make sure that customers are served quickly.
The Future of Restaurants
All is not bleak for the restaurant industry. Places like pizzerias and quick service restaurants have seen their sales increase during the pandemic because of their previous knowledge of getting food to be consumed off-premises out the door quickly. Ghost kitchens, where the location is used only to cook food for delivery orders and has no seating for customers, have exploded in the past six months.
And as the COVID vaccine is more widely distributed and states allow restaurants to have inside dining options, people are anxious to get back to enjoying a meal outside of their houses. A consumer insights group report showed that the number one thing that provided adults with joy but was taken away by the pandemic was dining out. It also polled as the first thing adults would do once they were able to.
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