Navigating COVID-19’s New Normal For Restaurant Operators

a photo of Bianca Esmond

Bianca Esmond

5 min read

Jan 8, 2021

Navigating COVID-19’s New Normal For Restaurant Operators
2020 will go down in history as one in which our lives were forever altered by a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions. The restaurant industry was particularly hard hit, with the dining industry coming to a standstill in late March, and take-out and delivery now the norm across many states as we move into the new year. Unfortunately, for many business owners and hospitality industry employees, reopening never came to be. According to CNBC, the coronavirus pandemic is directly responsible for the permanent closure of more than 100,000 restaurants and bars nationwide. In economic terms, the restaurant industry will see a loss of $240 billion in sales in the aftermath of COVID. But those numbers only tell part of the story, and countless restaurant owners have successfully adapted to various local mandates and ordinances, often in creative ways. Restaurant owners and managers can no longer afford to overlook the long-term implications of the pandemic on their businesses. Fortunately, savvy business owners around the globe have found new ways to adapt to this new world — from expanding their outdoor dining offerings to building deeper community ties to embracing technology in their operations. Whether you hope to boost your restaurant’s curbside takeaway sales or plan to offer socially-distanced dining, read on for creative ways operators are engaging with their guests to stay afloat.

Outdoor Dining as a Business Norm

For many restaurants navigating the challenges brought about by COVID-19, outdoor dining has provided a welcomed opportunity to continue driving revenue for their businesses. Outdoor dining has not only made it easier to adhere to social distancing mandates, but it’s also thought that the outside air may carry less risk of exposure to the virus than recirculating indoor air. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spending time in indoor spaces with less ventilation puts you at greater risk of contracting COVID than participating in outdoor activities. But what happens in the event of inclement weather, when outdoor dining may not be practical? You could perhaps follow in the footsteps of Café du Soleil in Manhattan, which offers its customers the opportunity to dine in safe and sanitary sidewalk tent capsules. Of course, outdoor dining in and of itself doesn’t completely guarantee sanitary conditions. And to retain the trust of your customers in the aftermath of COVID, cleanliness is a top priority. To curb the spread of COVID, handwashing is especially important. You must ensure that your employees have access to handwashing sinks, disinfecting soap, and hot water and that they understand recommended hand washing best practices. Additionally, disposable masks should be worn by all employees at all times and replaced as often as necessary.

Giving Back and Paying It Forward

As demonstrated by widespread restaurant closures and subsequent job loss in the wake of COVID-19, living under the threat of a pandemic is a challenging prospect. But in some ways, it’s also an opportunity to help foster greater public health, just when we need it most. In the aftermath of COVID, an estimated 54 million people faced food insecurity. Many of those individuals were seeking help with food costs for the first time in their lives. Interestingly, increased demand on food banks and similar resources can be felt across the entire supply chain. Food manufacturers provide a full 50% of donated products that are ultimately distributed to needy families via the nation’s food pantries. Your reopening strategy should thus include philanthropy as a crucial part of your company’s mission. In these challenging times, giving back can help us cultivate a sense of purpose rather than dwelling on the negatives. Creativity and charity thus coexist as effective and crucial elements of your post-COVID strategy.

Embracing Technology in a Changing World

Yet, in our digital world, creativity can’t exist without some sort of tandem technology to fuel those innovative ideas. Remote communication has, by necessity, become the safest and simplest form of communication. As such, your restaurant should fully understand the needs of your tech-savvy customers and strive for a user-friendly experience. From a managerial standpoint, technology is now the cornerstone of your post-COVID business model. Time-saving tools that may have seemed like a ‘nice to have’ before COVID, such as online reservation systems and streamlined onboarding software, have become essential. Offering a hands-free dining experience from the booking and check-in to the in-service experience and beyond should be prioritized to meet the needs of a changed guest with new expectations.

Key Takeaways

By necessity, the modern food service industry already differs drastically from that of the so-called “before times” — that is, before COVID-19 began to spread. If restaurant owners hope to survive and thrive in a world where COVID effectively runs the show, it will take creativity, innovation, and a willingness to do what it takes in the face of uncertainty.

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