COVID-19 and the Future of Restaurants

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By now, restaurant owners will have already had a full grasp of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their business. Only a couple of weeks after the crisis broke up, the aftershock was already as tangible as it could get. It came in the form of temporary closures, layoffs, permanent shutdowns, shrinking profits, and major shifts in strategy and branding.

Just like the hotel industry, the restaurant industry was inundated by closures of our favorite gastronomic destinations. Of course, big names with hybrid (brick-and-mortar and online delivery) business models fared better than their peers, but they too faced challenges. And even high-end and well-loved restaurants weren’t safe from the global crisis, with some notable closures including Biba Restaurant, Hakkasan, 20th Street Cafe, Blackbird, K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Toro, and Five Sixty.

But experts also note that it doesn’t end there. In fact, they would argue that the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant and foodservice industry is yet to fully materialize, even with vaccines being rolled out here and there. So let’s take a closer look at what restaurants should brace for in the coming months or years and what they can do to recover:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Restaurants

The effects of COVID-19 on foodservice have been far-reaching, as evidenced by these facts:

  • 110,000 restaurants, which account for 17% of restaurants in the US, have closed either temporarily or permanently
  • The industry has already lost $120 billion in profits ($899 in total sales) since the pandemic broke out
  • 2.5 million jobs have been lost in the past year
  • 6 years of growth of the industry have been wiped away in just half a year
  • 72% of restaurants that have closed said reopening is unlikely in the months or years ahead

These figures represent the grim reality and uncertain future of the industry. But despite these numbers, some remain hopeful that their business will rise again. It may take some time, but the restaurant industry has indeed been through many ups and downs since the recession. These experiences have made owners more resilient and optimistic.

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Tips for Reopening Your Restaurant

  • Expand your alfresco area – it might take some time before people start to eat inside restaurants without any worries. So if you want to attract more foot traffic, invest in making your outdoor area clean and appealing. Consider putting up a synthetic fence to provide privacy and trees and umbrellas for shade. Put up sanitizing stations throughout your alfresco area and ensure that the tables and chairs are always sanitized after use.
  • Invest in touch-free devices/features – nothing beats dining in a restaurant that genuinely cares about your health and safety. Make a lasting impression by investing in automatic doors and soap dispensers, touch-free screens, and mobile menus. While some restaurants would wait out the storm first before making any big purchases, you can get the first-mover advantage by adapting to the times.
  • Improve your dining experience – while an online delivery service can help you stay afloat, it’s simply not sustainable. People love eating out because a restaurant’s ambiance makes food more enjoyable. So before reopening your doors, make sure it’s in the best condition. And of course, don’t forget to sanitize your facilities regularly and train your employees to handle food with utmost care. More importantly, keep your service consistently good so you can start getting positive reviews.
  • Rebuild brand trust & loyalty – your reopening strategy should be anchored on making your customers love you again. Make them feel special by elevating your dining experience, and don’t shy away from add-ons like freebies, discounts, and promos. You can also start a loyalty program to rekindle interest in your brand and encourage word-of-mouth.
  • Reopen with a bang – whip up your mailing list and send fancy invites for your reopening. Make it more enticing by discounting all your menu offerings. You can also invite a favorite local band or artist to perform. Whatever you think will work, don’t shy away from giving your all. After all, every bit of effort will make a world of difference. Make use of your website and social media to announce your reopening and tease customers by adding a countdown or sharing pictures of your new menu.

Throughout the pandemic year, the restaurant landscape has been pretty much desolate. What were once busy streets lined with tables and chairs and filled with happy customers now struggling to stay open. But there have been a few signs of recovery, and in some cities, activity is picking up, and interest in dining in is rising.

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