Foodservice’s New Normal After Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is going to create long-term changes in the restaurant industry, experts warned.

Even when restaurants are allowed to open seating areas, it is unlikely things will return to the way they were, reported Business Insider (April 6). Roger Lipton, a restaurant industry analyst, investor, and advisor, predicted this will change the industry “like 9/11 changed our lives.”

“There’s going to be a new normal in terms of our lifestyle,” Lipton said. “I’m inclined to think that we’re not going to be back to so-called normal operations for the foreseeable future.”

As restaurants begin opening dining rooms, people may even need to have their temperature tested before they are allowed to sit down, noted Lipton.

Restaurants will also likely continue some social distancing measures when reopened, putting more space between tables and allowing fewer customers in dining rooms, according to Pacific Management Consulting Group founder John Gordon.

“A Friday night, Saturday night, a busy Sunday, you are not going to be able to…produce the same number of bodies, the same amount of sales because of the need to provide some social distance between guests,” Gordon said.

UBS analyst Dennis Geiger estimated up to 20% of the more than 1 million restaurants in the U.S. could permanently shutter due to the outbreak. The National Restaurant Association found that 3% of restaurants in the U.S. already permanently closed and 11% expect to do so in the next 30 days.

In New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked many of his former aides to come up with a “NYS Forward” plan to bolster the city’s economy after the crisis passes, reported Eater (April 6). The aides are talking with various industry experts to see if it makes sense to reopen certain industries like the hospitality industry sooner than others. Experts are hopeful that small businesses like restaurants will apply to the federal loans that were made available, though restaurateurs might be holding out for a stimulus package that’s focused on the industry.

Meanwhile, data from The Harris Poll reflected some positive notes. When measuring consumer sentiment regarding a return to “normal” after shelter-in-place is lifted, the firm found that 63% are willing to resume routine activity, and 43% will specifically return to restaurants within a month (69% in three months). Dataessential also found that six-in-10 Americans believe it will be safe to dine inside of restaurants within three months.

When it’s time to reopen, Upserve recommended taking baby steps.

“If you’ve taken tables out for social distancing, maintain that for a little while. Be conscientious that people are going to be hesitant and a little afraid, so roll things back out into the world a little slowly,” said Donald Burns, founder, The Restaurant Coach. “If your restaurant also runs events, like live music, trivia, or other features that bring in crowds, keep those small for a while and limit the number of people, giving everyone a comfortable amount of space.”

For fast-casual and quick-service restaurants especially, Burns also suggested investing in mobile or order-ahead options with limited or no-contact pickup for guests who will still be wary of close contact.