Reinstein envisions more restaurants requiring customers to wear masks. He thinks most customers won’t mind it because once they get to the table, they can take it off. Currently, about 40 percent of states require masks in public places when social distancing can’t be maintained.
However, the problem goes back to the bar business where people are socializing and interacting and want to see each other’s faces.
“That’s a tricky one. I think the way to really deal with that is to actually reserve areas within say a bar,” Reinstein says. “And again, if you have a small bar, you’re going to have issues. But if you have a larger bar, you can have small group reservations. Then you can have family, friends, whatever it may be, have a table of six. … I think masks will be required, but you have to have the ability to take them off.”
With the rise in cases, Reinstein says 50 percent capacity will most likely become the standard for an extended period. This means restaurants must continue to figure out ways to create additional revenue streams, like growth in off-premises, family deals, and meals kits. The industry veteran adds that consumers want restaurant quality food and want to find ways to go out to eat, so demand still exists.
The key is to not fall back into the way things were, he explains. Reinstein hopes that operators are completing another check of what they were doing when dining rooms first closed, such as paring down menus, finding new opportunities for revenue and different dayparts, and enhancing safety and sanitation procedures.
The new normal has arrived, and restaurants must maximize space throughout the day.
“My concern is that some brands were doing it defensively and defensive moves are dangerous,” Reinstein says. “Then you have other companies that basically went on the offensive and said well, this is part of the restaurant of the future, so I have to make the temporary moves, but I ultimately have to make these part of my DNA. This is what we’re going to be.”
When crafting messages to consumers, Reinstein says it’s important for restaurants to “tell the story of who you are as an operator.” That story must include not only steps taken to ensure health and safety, but also how a brand is maintaining an environment that is exactly what guests want in terms of experience.
Otherwise, operators risk being dragged into the crowd of restaurants that are not following guidelines and are allowing the rise in COVID cases to happen.
Looking toward the future, Reinstein says, restaurants must assume that things will move slowly. With all the excitement of consumers being able to go out again, brands let their guard down, he notes. But that can’t continue—restaurants must embrace the new normal.
“I just think everyone has to step back again and say, ‘How did this happen; we were making progress,’” Reinstein says. “OK, step back, and now just go at it a little bit different again. It’s going to be fine, but you just have to be sure that you just don’t go back and become complacent again to what got us here in the first place.”