Like many businesses, the restaurant industry was dramatically impacted by COVID-19, especially with food safety considerations. The pandemic impacted the entire food production process, from the earliest stages of the supply chain through customer delivery systems. Restaurant facility managers have dealt with various challenges in coping with the pandemic, and there are still more changes to come in the future. We’ve got your restaurant state of the industry update: all the ways COVID initially affected restaurants, how they’re adapting, and what you can expect in 2021.
Challenges from COVID-19
As essential businesses, many restaurants, due to state restrictions, moved to delivery and curbside pick-up options to limit contact. Of course, this meant that restaurants had to start using online ordering systems to simplify ordering for customers. For many restaurants, it was a huge technological change to implement digital systems to accommodate online orders.
Not only were restaurants required to change their digital capabilities, but they also had to shift the traffic patterns and work shifts of employees. The streamlining of traffic in kitchens reduced contact between employees. In some cases, reducing the number of employees or employees’ hours to limit contact meant that food prep time was increased (not to mention increased sanitization and safety measures which slowed prep time as well).
While the restaurant industry faced unique challenges due to COVID, the pandemic forced some very unique innovation. Restaurants had to think differently about how to supply customers with food and drinks. This led to foodservice novelties like carryout cocktails, meal kits, and a significant rise in the popularity of meal subscription services like HelloFresh.
As dining rooms begin to open, restaurants have modified interior seating arrangements to allow for social distancing between tables. Throughout the summer many restaurants were able to increase their outdoor seating capacity. But with the weather cooling down in the north, restaurants will have to move back to interior seating. With reduced seating, restaurants could see either an increase in online ordering or a reduction in overall sales.
Restaurants have also upped their sanitization game. They increased cleaning of all high touch surfaces in both the dining areas and kitchens. Better sanitization also includes implementing point-of-sale barriers in restaurants.
Regardless of the measures taken in dining rooms, it’s clear the delivery and curbside pick-up options will only grow in their roles as the newest, and most popular, members of the restaurant industry’s team.
2021 Restaurant Facility Trends
One of the biggest topics floating around in the restaurant industry deals with updating and improving HVAC systems. HVAC systems are critical for circulating and filtering the air that runs through a facility. Restaurants can update older systems to allow for more control of airflow speed, to circulate more fresh air, and to enable greater air filtration.
Other innovations that we can look for in 2021 include continued contactless ordering and delivery methods. Many stores have already implemented online menus via QR code, online ordering, and contactless delivery methods through services like Grubhub and DoorDash.
Some restaurants, especially high-end eateries, have completely switched their menus. For example, some opened small pop-ups to offer more accessible and affordable meals. We can expect to see more of this in 2021, with dining innovations that are convenient and quick. Restaurants should also consider increasing their back-of-house capacity and decreasing the size of their dining rooms to accommodate the high demand for off-premise food service.
Simply stated: restaurants must embrace the inevitable shift coming in 2021. New technologies, processes, and dining innovations have and will transform the industry. Embracing these changes will ensure that restaurants create a safer customer experience and build brand trust.
Check out our other resources about COVID’s impact on various industries.