It’s no secret the restaurant industry has struggled to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In many states, lockdown measures forced many to close their doors, at least partially. As these restrictions begin to ease, reopening restaurants will have to adapt to recover.
Reopening won’t happen all at once, either. Establishments will likely need to meet specific requirements to reopen and adhere to occupancy restrictions. While some restaurants are better equipped to meet these new standards, it’ll be a challenge for all businesses.
After such a long period of economic stress, establishments must rethink their operations to become as profitable as possible. Here’s how that will likely happen.
Shifting Business Models
In light of new challenges, full-service restaurants, as the public knows them today, may fade. With limited seating and increased pressure to maximize profits, the traditional model may prove insufficient. Many reopening restaurants will change their business model, at least temporarily, as a result.
One of the most likely trends to take off is the “ghost kitchen,” also called virtual or cloud kitchens. These businesses, which only offer delivery or takeout, are rising in popularity already as a means to withstand pandemic-related losses. Since ghost kitchens are cheaper to set up and can meet higher order volumes, they may prove more profitable.
Virtual kitchens also feature no dining area, so they already comply with reopening restrictions. Similar solutions are also likely to rise, like food trucks or pop-up restaurants. These business models don’t need dining spaces to succeed and can reach a broader audience, increasing revenue.
Taking Advantage of Technology
No matter what business model a restaurant adopts, it’ll need to capitalize on technology. The food service world has grown increasingly tech-centric over the years, but technological transformation has never been more crucial. Reopening restaurants that don’t take advantage of technology will likely find it challenging to stay open.
Automated technologies like touchless faucets and automatic toilet cleaners can maintain higher hygiene standards without employees. That way, workers can focus on fulfilling orders, and guests can have a clean, safe experience. Meeting new cleanliness standards isn’t the only area in which technology can help, either.
Mobile apps enable faster, more user-friendly ordering, increasing take-out and delivery volumes. Similarly, these services let customers reserve tables quickly and without complication, helping avoid overcrowding. Restaurant apps can also feature digital menus and touch-free payments, providing peace of mind for safety-conscious consumers.
In the face of occupancy restrictions, many full-service restaurants will embrace outdoor dining. While this trend is certainly older than the pandemic, it saw new growth when indoor seating became limited. As restaurants attempt to recover, outdoor dining could equal indoor experiences, becoming a new norm.
In some areas, cities closed portions of streets so restaurants and bars could expand into the road. If this trend continues, it could lead to entire city portions dedicated to hospitality businesses. Outdoor dining experiences would reach new heights, helping to meet reopening guidelines while attracting new customers.
One study found that 43 percent of Americans over age 13 plan to spend more time outside amid social distancing regulations. Restaurants that expand their outdoor seating can capitalize on this growing consumer segment.
Reopening restaurants need to become as profitable as possible, as quickly as they can. Months of sustained losses have left the industry in dire need of cash flow, so recovery needs to come quickly. As a result, many restaurants will likely streamline their menu to reduce costs and maximize revenue.
At first, this strategy can seem counterintuitive. After all, having fewer options seems to narrow a restaurant’s consumer appeal. Despite these preconceived notions, streamlined menus mean establishments don’t have to spend as much on ingredients. They also enable workers to fulfill orders more efficiently, potentially increasing sales volumes.
Restaurants can cut out items with smaller profit margins to focus on more cost-effective offerings. As this strategy starts to bring in revenue, businesses can consider expanding their menu once again. Recovery is typically a long process, though, so menus will likely remain relatively lean for some time.
Flexibility Is Crucial to Restaurants’ Survival
Full-service restaurants face another challenging period as lockdown restrictions begin to ease. Recovery won’t come immediately, and they’ll likely have to make some considerable changes for it to happen at all. Those that adapt the quickest and most effectively will see the greatest success in the coming year or two.
Flexibility has always been essential in the restaurant industry, as it deals with a fickle public. Amid the pandemic, years of change seem to be happening all at once. Restaurants have to adapt faster than they ever have. But if they can do that, they’ll emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.