How the Restaurant Industry Has Adjusted as a Result of the Pandemic
By: Bruce Baja
While it is safe to say the COVID-19 pandemic brought about many unprecedented challenges for most businesses, the restaurant industry in particular found itself faced with challenges the like of which it had never witnessed before. From constantly changing rules and regulations, safety guidelines, occupancy limits, and extremely challenging staffing issues, restaurants have been forced to adapt to an ever-changing environment to survive.
With dining room closures creating a huge surge in takeout and delivery orders, restaurants experienced several situations that called for flexibility and adaptation. Pivoting to curbside and contactless pickup helped limit exposure between people, and third-party delivery providers made it possible for small, local restaurants to offer their food on a carry-out basis without having to hire additional full or part-time delivery workers.
This shift toward exclusively carry-out, drive-thru and delivery led to operators working quickly to organize and implement new offerings and streamline their processes. Restaurants that already had drive-thru lanes in place were better able and prepared to weather the storm, however even they were forced to make modifications to accommodate the surge in drive-thru business with employees outside taking orders and doing their best to limit wait times and, in many instances, sectioning off portions of their parking lots for curbside pick-up.
Restaurants were also forced to develop fresh tactics to adjust to the pandemic and adapt to new customer behaviors, including offering tamper-evident packaging, communicating their specific health and sanitation practices, installing social distancing signage for in-house operations, adjusting dine-in configurations, adding plexiglass dividers, and adding carry-out options to name a few.
Beyond the aforementioned modifications to existing business models, many national chains have now started to unveil new prototypes for their “future restaurant” designs that emphasize customer convenience and digital technology integration and, in many cases, smaller dining room spaces.
Panera Bread is a great example of this shift as they seek to emphasize the importance of post-Covid convenience technology and encourage customers to enjoy enhanced dine-in experiences as well. They have introduced their next generation store design which features a double drive-thru with a pick-up lane, contactless dine-in and delivery, updated internal kiosks, and automatic identification for loyalty customers. The new Panera Bread cafes will also receive a brand refresh to make customers feel more comfortable and better able to sit down and relax while eating inside.
Panera Bread’s response is an example of how restaurants are shifting operations to accommodate convenience-motivated customers looking for both dine-in and off-premises experiences.
In addition to future restaurant designs, many restaurants are attempting to predict the long-term effects of the pandemic on consumer behavior and working to adjust their operations and marketing to cater to the post-pandemic consumer. It is widely anticipated and reasonable to assume that consumers will continue to have much higher expectations for cleanliness and sanitation moving forward.
Other presumed long-term effects include continued reliance on online ordering, delivery, curbside pickup, and drive-thru, increased expectation for food safety, including tamper-evident packaging, increased desire for grab-and-go and pre-packaged products and the normalization of touchless kiosks and ordering systems.
Ultimately, most restaurants have now successfully transformed their business models throughout the pandemic and have made the necessary adjustments to be better poised for success in the future.
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