What Will the Future of the Restaurant Industry Look Like?

restaurant dining room web

By James Bailey, CPA

Before the coronavirus outbreak, trends in the restaurant industry like increased delivery and takeout services have taken off, if nothing else than by necessity. In the weeks since, restaurants have pivoted and adapted in new, exciting, and challenging ways and found creative solutions to maintain cash flow and keep employees on the payroll. What will the industry look like when we’re at full capacity again?

Digital upgrades

What does your restaurant’s website look like? Its social media channels? Many establishments have made the switch to take-out and delivery by optimizing their existing digital presence, but many more are still operating with phone-in orders. In the not-so-distant future, entire menus could be available online-only in an effort to increase hygiene and save on the costs of printing physical menus. What about contactless ordering and payment even for dine-in customers? Big chains already do this, but now that online apps and Instagram food ordering are viable alternatives, any size restaurant can pursue contactless ordering and payment, too.

A variety of vendors to protect the supply chain

As restaurants are able to open back up for dining service, expect that some items will be unavailable. Especially for restaurants with a specialty menu, it may be hard to find certain ingredients right now. Restaurant owners and operators should be taking this time to vary their supply chain, so they don’t have to rely on one or two key vendors for most products. This may be a great time to explore smaller, more local sources for food and products. Be prepared to adjust as time goes on.

A change in menu approach

Product and food shortages and gaps in the supply chain also mean that it’ll become necessary for restaurants to adapt their menu. Some industry leaders are predicting shortages in traditional meat products like ground beef, for example, but other types of meat, like ham or pork belly, are easy to get. There is probably going to be a shift in how menus are created, and perhaps a new opportunity to experiment with different food choices we wouldn’t have considered first before.

And more than what’s on the menu, disposable menus might become the new norm, at least for a while. The industry as a whole is looking for ways to cut down on the hand-to-hand transmission of germs, and throw-away menus that are only used once, for each customer, may be an option.

Easy-made items

As restaurants reopen, not all staff may need to return at once.  Owners and operators, in considering their menu choices, will also need to think about the labor involved in making certain made-from-scratch dishes. Labor-intensive menu items that have a lot of steps and a lot of ingredients may go by the wayside temporarily, in favor of quicker or easy-to-assemble menu offerings. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: the food is quicker to make and requires less staff to make it.

Continued focus on sanitation and hygiene

Even after coronavirus is controlled, we will have entered what many are dubbing ‘a new normal.’ Restaurants will need to maintain strict sanitation and hygiene practices going forward; customers will expect it and there may even be new industry guidelines in place to protect customers and staff. It may not be unheard of for staff or customers to undergo temperature checks before they enter the restaurant, and gloves and masks on wait staff may become commonplace. Further, it may become commonplace to offer disposable bags for customers to keep their masks while they eat, and hand sanitizer at tables.

Beyond hygiene practices, food safety has been and will continue to be a differentiator for competitive restaurants.

Take-out and delivery are here to stay

Finally, the switch to more take-out and delivery options is something that will only continue to grow. For many restaurants, this was already expected to be a big part of revenue growth in the next five years anyway. Continue refining your restaurant’s to-go and delivery food models and developing online ordering options.

Don’t forget about takeout containers, either. Prior to the coronavirus, consumers were already expecting more environmentally friendly food packaging choices, in addition to packaging that maintains the food’s quality. 

Seating arrangements

As dine-in sales resume, we already know that the short-term future means a different looking dining room. Restaurants in other parts of the world are already adapting, with some spacing out tables six feet apart and others installing plexiglass guards between diners or other tables. Upgrades to existing seating, like booths with higher backs, could be a compromise. And we can probably also expect to be seating smaller parties. With these restrictions, restaurant operators also need to consider how the waiting room will look, and what adjustments will be needed to ensure customers’ safety as well as preserve the kind of experience they’re looking for.

New coronavirus restaurant policies

Finally, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants may be forced to take a closer look at existing policies. Some restaurants overseas are requiring customers to share contact information so that confirmed cases of coronavirus can be more easily traced, for example. Internally, many restaurants are implementing permanent changes to employee policies, like paid sick leave. Others are examining pay structures and considering moving to a no-tip experience to equalize pay among staff. And many are expecting nationwide safety protocols to be re-evaluated at some point.

As you reopen the doors to dine-in customers, carefully re-examine how you interact with and deliver food to customers. Making necessary adjustments will take time and planning, with a fair amount of flexibility as the situation changes. Remain in touch with your customers throughout this process and lean on your advisors to help strategize how the next steps can make positive impacts for long-term success.