2. New No-Touch Food-Safety Protocols & Services
“No-touch” and “frictionless” are now terms we have all adopted. Minimizing contact is top-of-mind for consumers and operators have come up with creative and effective ways to enable this and to send clear visible clues that sanitization and distancing is top-of-mind, such as gloves, masks, floor stickers, and parking cones to maintain distance while standing in line. Consumers don’t see these as an inconvenience, but as a thoughtful and appreciated gesture.
With the focus on off-premises sales, operators have had to figure how to make curbside pickup, takeout, and drive thru more “frictionless.” We’re seeing credit-card swipe machines stuck out the drive-thru window on a pole and having your order handed to you in a plastic tray to maintain a safer distance.
Front-of-house sanitization and no-touch protocols have also been widely adopted. Mask wearing is becoming standard and shielded face coverings and Plexiglass walls are being adopted in front of cash registers and at drive thrus. McDonalds just announced all store staff will be wearing gloves and masks, both for their safety and for patron’s peace of mind. Government regulations on mandated use of PPE is also expected.
Tamper-proof packaging has become a must-have and operators have either bought better packaging or adopted home-made solutions using tape and staplers. Some operators have also included safety instructions that come in the take-out bag and provide safe-handling tips.
Moving forward, we see some of these tactics and protocols remaining with us. Some may only be short-term as “transitionary comfort practices,” and others will evolve and become part of our new post-COVID reality.
Looking Forward: Implications
Frictionless curbside pick-up. Curbside pickup will become part of virtually every full-service operation. Apps will allow for ordering, payment, communication, and pickup with the goal of zero contact between patrons and staff.
Frictionless drive thru. Similarly, we predict widespread adoption of greater no-touch protocols for quick-service restaurants and ultimately fast casual drive thru. These will include ordering on an app and driving through, no-touch payment at the window, improved window-side sanitization practices, and continued use of gloves.
Overt employee sanitization practices. New and expanded sanitization standards for employees will be put in place. Simply having a sign that says "employees must wash hands" will not be good enough. In our post-COVID world we will see overt cues of safe-handing/no-touch protocols such as broad use of latex gloves and mandatory use of masks, expanded dining room, and bathroom sanitization practices, and new cleaning products that make it easier and more effective. There will be signs on tables and doors communicating these practices. Consumers want to see these and smart operators will go out of their way to make sure they do.
Mandated sanitization practices. Of course, the government will help and launch new sanitization and safety protocols. These could include requirements for operators to spray down their restaurants on a regular basis with a hi-grade disinfectant similar to what the airlines are using. We may also see regulations for glove usage as well as new training requirements for employees on sanitization and food handling.
Self-serve anything will become a safety issue. Existing self-serve condiments, beverages, and touch-screen ordering platforms will need to be modified. We will likely see beverage machines either go back behind the counter or be redesigned to be no-touch. Buffets and salad bars will be re-thought or disappear entirely. Portion control condiments will see greater adoption and these will be kept behind the counter and added upon request. Anything that more than one patron touches will either be regularly sanitized or removed.
Sick employee protocols. New rules for what constitutes being sick will be commonplace and managers will be required to keep an eye out for signs of employee illness. What was allowed in the past will no longer be acceptable. Short term some operators will mandate employees to have their temperatures taken before their shifts begin, as Yum! Brands recently announced.
Tamper-proof packaging. It goes without saying that packaging needs to change. This will be one of the greatest areas of immediate operator investment which will be fueled by consumers’ willingness to pay for it. We may also see restaurants itemize on the bill “+$1.50 for tamper-proof delivery packaging.” Delivery packaging will become a differentiator and part of an operator’s brand experience and no longer be viewed as a cost to be minimized.
3. Focus on Simplifying Operations
In tough times, we tend to step back and regroup. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a number of changes and new programs designed to simplify the restaurant operation. One of most common simplification actions has been a forced one. Closing the dining room. With operators losing their dine-in business and consumers still looking for “safe” restaurant food there has been an obvious and expected increase in takeout, delivery and curbside pickup. For operators who previously had never offered these service or had not focused on them, the current Covid crises has forced experimentation in these areas with mixed results.
Another area of significant simplification has been with the menu. A limited menu that focusses on the most popular sellers allows customers to quickly make a decision and order. It’s also easier and faster to produce with a limited staff so orders can be executed quickly without mistakes. Reducing the menu has also led to a reduction in the number of skus in the kitchen which has made it easier to manage inventory and place orders for ingredients. After years of menu expansion and kitchen complication perhaps a period of “regrouping” will lead to good things.
As we move forward, foodservice operations will be simplified to make them safer, require less labor, require less space and be more efficient overall.
Looking Forward: Implications
Restaurants will go back to their core menus. We predict that a “back to basics” approach will become the norm. Menus will be reduced. Well thought out differentiation will still be crucial to success, but innovation stage-gate hurdles will be stricter. Innovation will need to drive traffic and incremental revenue not simply be content for the next commercial.
Reduction of SKUs. Paring down SKUs that are used infrequently will make it easier on purchasing, receiving, and storage as well as reduce waste. It will make the operation more productive and reduce labor needs. Operators will make each product coming into the kitchen work harder, such as through the use of bold flavors and flexible-use ingredients that can be incorporated into multiple recipes and creative LTOs.
Peeling off of staffing layers. Foodservice employees in larger operations have become specialized in their roles and we anticipate a move back to “multi-taskers” who are well trained to handle multiple roles. This will allow an operation to run leaner and provide more flexibility in staff scheduling.
Practical packaging. Effective, safe, multi-use take-out packaging will take the place of cheap packaging. We see the dimensions of great packaging being expanded from, priced right + sustainable + functional, to also now include tamper-proof.
Comfort food innovation. Consumers retreat to comfort foods in difficult times. Moving forward they will continue to crave these items, but we see this as an opportunity for operators to be creative in a simpler way. Similar to the innovation explosion we’ve experienced with hamburgers and more recently with mac & cheese, other comfort foods will be turned into successful, yet simple, innovation platforms.