A restaurant customer holds up a menu.
Unsplash/Tayla Brand

Menus themselves might not look the same after the pandemic.

3 Ways Restaurants Will Adapt to a Post-COVID World

For operators, it's time to revisit both their dine-in and delivery and pickup offerings.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is ushering in a new era for hospitality, and the short and long-term impact of guest behavior is top of mind for every operator. With 41 percent of restaurant owners believing the biggest reopening challenge they face is a slow return of customers, earning consumer trust will be more important than ever. Ahead, we’ve outlined three ways restaurants will adapt in the future as they head toward reopening their dining rooms.

1. Transforming The Delivery & Dine-In Experience

As dining rooms have been closed, consumers have adjusted to a new delivery-forward model. Restaurant operators have risen to the challenge, creating delivery and takeout programs from scratch to drive revenue while dining rooms are closed. This includes adapting their dining rooms to accommodate larger, low-touch takeout areas, offering curbside takeout and even revisiting their kitchens and prep stations to create more safer procedures for those cooking delivery orders on the line.

However, when given the go ahead by local and state governments to reopen, restaurants will be dealing with a changed consumer who will be hesitant to be in close proximity to other guests and will be hyper-focused on the health and safety practices of restaurants. They may not want to dive back into the on-premise dining experience immediately, but there are many ways to ensure guests are comfortable visiting the dining room once again.

The restaurant of the future will need to evolve to meet new consumer demands around health and safety. As states begin to reopen businesses, we expect to see shifting floor plans to allow more space between guests due to social distancing guidelines, party size limits and capacity restrictions. We could even see more radical changes to restaurant layouts, including the removal of bar seats to help with social distancing or the elimination of host stands due to a shift to a digital waitlist or reservations model. In fact, we expect virtual waitlists and online reservations to become more prevalent than ever before, with restaurants leveraging these tools to help meet capacity restrictions in the near-term, and ease worries of consumers who no longer want to stand in a crowded foyer waiting to be seated.

To succeed in a post-COVID world, restaurants will need to revisit both their dine-in and delivery and pickup offerings to enable a more seamless, and safe, experience for guests.

2. Going Contactless 

With 80 percent of people staying they experience fear or anxiety walking into a store or restaurant during COVID-19, health and safety will be top of mind for anyone entering these spaces. The restaurant industry is rising to meet these expectations, shifting into the digital sphere with contactless payments, ordering, delivery and more. But the benefits don’t stop with operators providing guests and staff with safe, simple, and contactless options. These technologies also enable operators to minimize front of house labor costs, while maximizing the frequency of orders, driving dollars to their bottom lines. In a time when 56 percent of restaurants have at least $50,000 in new debt as a result of COVID-19, these reduced overhead costs, paired with increased convenience and adoption on the customer side, are a match made in heaven.

Imagine this scenario: a guest walks into a restaurant. They know they’ll be seated immediately, because they were able to place themselves on a virtual waitlist from the comfort of their home, without crowding around a host stand jockeying for a table. Once they are seated by a server wearing gloves and a mask, they take out their phone and scan a NFC tag or QR code on the table. This pulls up a digital menu for them to peruse, and within seconds, they can place their order for drinks and appetizers. Once they’ve enjoyed their meal, they simply click a button, use their stored Apple Pay card to pay, and are out the door to enjoy a beautiful afternoon. No paper menus, no sharing pens or passing off a credit card or cash, minimal interaction, and a safe, seamless dining experience from start to finish.

But this doesn’t mean that personalization goes out the window with reduced interaction from servers or other team members. Once the guest shares information about themselves with the restaurant (e.g. allergic to shrimp and walnuts), imagine a world where they are no longer shown any menu items that have shellfish or nut products. This is the power of contactless offerings. And these experiences don’t stop in the dining room. Using data collected on the guest during an in-service interaction, restaurants will also be able to reach them at home—surfacing the right information, at the right time to encourage the customer to order delivery or takeout directly. The possibilities are endless when it comes to contactless offerings across the guest journey.  

This will not only be the new reality, it will be the new normal and expectation for guests.

3. Embracing A New Data-Driven & Connected Tech Stack

With the restaurant industry expected to lose $80 billion in sales by the end of April, operators are reflecting on each platform within their tech stack, and whether or not they provide a strong return in investment (ROI). In a post-COVID world, third-party delivery and reservation platforms that offer little access or ownership of guest data will no longer have models that are sustainable for restaurants. This is especially true when those same systems choose not to integrate with other platforms in an operator’s tech stack, perpetuating siloed systems and missed data connections.

Instead, operators need to think about how they connect their tech stack end-to-end to enable them to collect and leverage data across dine-in, delivery and pick-up. With a 360-degree view across every guest, operators can connect data across the entire guest journey, from when a guest books a reservation or orders delivery, to how they order and pay, to the types of marketing they receive as a result.

Operators should focus on finding a partner that offers: (1) capabilities that help restaurants to build direct relationships with guests, (2) a business model with a focus on the long-term success of their restaurant, and (3) a robust CRM that enables operators to own and access guest data to provide exceptional experiences inside and outside the dining room. Each of these technologies, whether a point of sale system, guest experience platform or inventory management software, should help operators to capture and leverage guest data, generate revenue and manage costs. This is just one of the many ways operators can meet the challenges of a changed hospitality sector.

Despite the upheaval brought on by COVID-19, the future of hospitality is bright. New challenges bring new innovations that will fundamentally change the way operators adapt to do business in the future.

Joel Montaniel is the CEO & co-founder of SevenRooms, a data-driven operations, marketing, and guest engagement platform that empowers hospitality operators to collect and leverage data to drive personalization across the guest journey, cultivate direct relationships with guests and deliver exceptional hospitality experiences. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. from Georgetown University.

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