At the time of writing this, we’re starting to see everyone from national chains to independent restaurants planning to “reopen” in the weeks ahead, but with no real promise as to what this phase-in could look like. Once the economy starts opening back up, and restaurants follow suite, we’ll begin to see how the new norms manifest.
Curbside delivery and takeout are already deeply ingrained in the American psyche as the new operation moving forward, but we predict that once dining rooms open again, we’ll see even more changes that could last for months or even years down the line.
Below are some general predictions we’ve put together around operations and the customer experience. What this will look like as the weeks unfold will continue to evolve, and we expect to see immediate changes to the industry and the way customers “dine-in” as states begin to slowly open back up.
- More open space and far fewer tables
While this is more of a fact than an actual prediction, as restaurants plan to reopen, there are varying guidelines by counties and states that could contribute to how this unfolds. Operators have different plans on how to phase business back in and we’ve seen some varying factors across the board. WSJ noted that restaurants can open at half capacity moving forward to ensure social distancing, and even suggested including plexiglass shields between booths.
Some restaurant associations are considering a staggered approach as follows:
- 25% capacity for two weeks
- 50% capacity for the next two weeks
- 75% capacity for weeks five and six
- 100% capacity after six weeks of continued decline in cases
How restaurants will phase back in will look different across the country, but one thing we can count on is a reduced number of tables and guests dining in until there is some level of virus control over the next 18 – 24 months.
- Increased mobile payments and “contactless” dining
With the surge of takeout and curbside delivery, facilitated through online ordering, customers and staff are reducing the touchpoints for collecting payments. Many restaurants are encouraging guests to pay for their food via online ordering or over the phone prior to picking up their food, and we expect to see this in some form in the dining room as well.
Many larger restaurant chains are encouraging customers to use their mobile apps to pay prior to picking up and we expect smaller restaurants to begin working with third-party vendors that can help build these procedures in place.
And when it comes to “contactless” payment for takeout and curbside, technology that can provide push notifications to alert staff and/or customers when their food is ready can cut down on transaction time and prevent guests from ever having to leave their car.
Lastly, restaurants will have the opportunity to adapt their pay-at-the-table operations to help reduce exchanging money and credit cards between two sets of hands. We’ll start to see more of these transactions through dining rooms across the country as guests demand safer procedures.
- PPE required for staff
There’s been a lot of talk around servers and chefs wearing gloves and masks as a part of the new normal and we expect to see this adopted around the country. Many states are going to bake this in their framework guidelines for reopening businesses. What would’ve seemed like something out of a science fiction film just several months ago may now be the new normal over the next 1 – 2 years.
- Curbside delivery overhaul
While any restaurant that has been able to survive the past 5 weeks has done so largely as a result of takeout and curbside, we expect to see this business model continue to drive a large portion of restaurant profit even after dining rooms open. Customers will still be reluctant to dine-in immediately after a ban is lifted, but they’ll also feel safer and more comfortable getting out to pick-up food.
Additionally, we’ll see creative restaurants adopt several of the strategies that have been working lately such as “Take and Bake” dishes, family meal plans and even offering specials “only available for curbside” in an effort to drive demand and add flare to signature dishes.
All-in-all, the restaurant industry will continue to evolve as this pandemic shifts and changes over time. Industry standards are already leaning on takeout and curbside, and as restaurants weather the first few weeks after stay-at-home orders are lifted, we’ll have a better idea of what processes work and how customers are reacting.
We’d love to hear from you! What are some interesting ways you’ve seen your favorite restaurants adapt during this crisis?