The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on many sectors of our economy, most notably the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry expects to lose up to $240 billion by the end of 2020.
How will restaurants reinvent themselves in this new normal?
Having spent decades in cultivating client experiences, I am interested to see how the restaurant industry will adapt consumer experiences to the shifting mindset. According to Fast Casual, 92% of restaurant traffic is now off-premise. While grocery stores saw and continue to see a significant uptick during the pandemic, many restaurants quickly adapted to the demand with curbside pickup and newly added delivery services, keeping their restaurants top of mind for the day when things would reopen. In fact, according to Toast, the average online order check size has been 23% larger than in-store checks, so some restaurants were able to pivot and not lose as much ground. Unfortunately, this was not the normal as many have struggled to pay rents and staff.
Now, with many states partially or completely reopened it has forced restaurants to rethink the consumer experience. I was riding around in my neighborhood this week and was surprised to see outdoor restaurant spaces popping up on sidewalks, parking lots and adjacent areas. Tented areas were a surprising feature with unique and inviting decor. One in particular had elegant hanging lights, beautiful flowers and lush trees lining the entrance way. I had actually never noticed the restaurant in the location before but gave it a second look as a result of its inviting atmosphere.
One upscale restaurant created a tented air-conditioned space taking over half of their parking area. The servers were wearing coordinating masks and tables were spaced six feet apart. According to pre-pandemic data from LendEDU, roughly half of millennials spend more on dining than they put towards retirement. I question whether this trend will continue post-pandemic, however for restaurants that do survive this challenging time, getting millennials back through a reimagined experience will be key. in fact, 41% of consumers are most looking forward to feelings of relaxation when they return to restaurants according to Datassential. Safety concerns are top of mind as well with some restaurants looking at shared surfaces and spaces and how to make their customers feel safe from an increase in cleaning to changing the interior to materials that are not virus friendly.
According to CNN, the owners of Black Sheep Restaurants, which operates 25 establishments across Hong Kong, two of which are Michelin-starred, collaborated on a comprehensive safety operating plan for their own restaurants, but decided to publish the playbook and share online. The manual has since been translated into four languages and contains information on cleanliness, guest interaction, and more. It is this type of sharing and unity that will help to get restaurants through this challenging time.
I personally have not ventured into any restaurants yet, but I am cautiously optimistic about what the future of dining will look like. Restaurants are about more than just food, they are the embodiment of our culture, history and life experiences and I for one am excited for when we can begin to enjoy them again!
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