Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to the restaurants of old as we welcome the new age of dining out in the post-pandemic period. Elizabeth Kuhr of NBC News, an American news channel, said restaurants would have to replace the words “intimate,” “cozy,” and “atmospheric” to “clean,” “sterile,” and “spacious.”
While these words do not describe the tranquil experience of dining out, restaurant owners have the obligation to safeguard the health and well-being of customers. For example, one restaurant plans to serve diners under individual greenhouses while others will place hand sanitizer and individually wrapped silverware on each table.
Customers have always been concerned about a restaurant’s safety, but now, they want clear indications that the establishment is free from germs, explained Alex Susskind, a professor and associate dean at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
Surveys Reveal the State of the Restaurant Industry
According to the National Restaurant Association, a restaurant industry business association, the restaurant industry lost over three million jobs and 25 billion in sales since March 1, 2020, about a 50% decline in sales. The National Restaurant Association surveyed more than 5,000 restaurant owners and operators from March 23 to 26. 88% of restaurant operators said their total dollar sales volume from March 1-22 was lower than it was during the same period last 2019.
44% of owners temporarily closed their restaurants and 11% anticipated permanently closing within the next 30 days. Only 3% of owners said they permanently closed their restaurant. Meanwhile, 54% of operators temporarily changed their business model to off-premises only. In another survey by the Colorado Restaurant Association, the state’s leading trade organization for the foodservice industry, involving over 220 restaurant operators, eight out of 10 restaurants were operating below 50% capacity for indoor dining, reported Michael Abeyta of CBS Denver, a CBS-owned-and-operated television station.
Surveyed between June 1 and June 9, 56% said they will consider closing their restaurants permanently in less than three months while 7% said they will consider closing in less than a month. When asked whether there would be enough diners to fill demand, 66% said they are either turning people away or forcing them to wait. 32% were turning away more than 50% of their restaurant’s capacity.
The customers who were going to restaurants were following social distancing measures, with 88% of restaurants offering dine-in service reporting that customers are abiding by the guidelines and 72% saying their customers are wearing face masks. 90% of restaurants said their municipality has expanded outdoor seating options. “Our capacity has pretty much doubled just having an extended patio open,” stated General Manager Audrey Potter. However, they are in the minority as only 27% of restaurants have been able to offer outdoor seating.
How Will Restaurants Look Post-COVID-19?
1. Needing Proof of Cleanliness and Hygiene
Diners need more concrete proof of cleanliness and hygiene such as surface cleaning and contactless experience being practiced in restaurants, stated Shana Clarke of American news channel CNN. If customers themselves fail to verify it, they will be more reluctant to dining at a restaurant, Susskind commented. Nowadays, customers need to see other diners wearing gloves and masks—hygiene protocols that were absent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Maintaining Restaurants at 50% Capacity
Restaurant managers plan to start at 50% capacity to maintain distance, and many toyed with the idea weeks ago, before regulations closed down dining rooms. Communal tables may accommodate parties of two at either end or one party of four at the center.
With regard to banquette seating for two people, both diners have to sit facing outward so the server can avoid sliding in between tables to reach the far-seated customer, said Allison Cooke, principal and director of hospitality design at Core. Moreover, signage will play a more critical role in restaurants as it will remind customers to be respectful of other diners, maintain social distancing, and adhere to safety protocols. Customers will have to expect markers that help maintain a six-foot to line the restaurant.
3. Catering to the Well-Being of Restaurant Employees
Frequent handwashing will remain vital in curbing the spread of the virus. Sarah Gavigan, chef and owner of The Otaku Group in Nashville, plans to check her employees’ temperatures as soon as they arrive to work. Director of sales and marketing for The Gaslight Group in Savannah, Georgia Carey Ferrara acknowledged that maintaining a six-foot distance in the kitchen may not always be possible and it may take longer for the food to be served to customers.
Stephanie Castellucci, owner of the six-restaurant strong Castellucci Group in Georgia, said clear and concise messages among chefs and the kitchen team should be relayed to ensure the smooth flow of service. However, Castellucci acknowledged that it will be difficult to do it in a normal environment considering safety precautions. For her, “… it does provide the opportunity for things to get missed. So we're thinking about how we can work more off of [order] tickets and less off of calls."
4. Leveraging the Power of Technology
Many restaurant managers foresee greater use of one’s smartphone to access information online. For example, Ferrara at The Gaslight Group will have a QR code that will enable diners to scan with their scan and view the menu on their phone.
Digital platform for the restaurant industry Bentobox launched an online ordering tool for dining establishments to manage their takeout and delivery service during the initial shutdown. When paying the bill, it may become a battle of who will able to whip out their device the fastest.
Krystle Mobayeni, CEO and co-founder of BentoBox said, “It's funny because I think there was a time, maybe five years ago, where a lot of different companies were trying to make mobile payments work ... but they never quite caught on.” She conjectured that contactless payment will make a comeback to allow diners to pay for their bill without exchanging their cards or using a pen to sign.
A New Age of Comfort
Before the outbreak, comfort entailed the amount of padding in your seat, how flavorful the sauce is, and how well-crafted your cocktail is. However, comfort nowadays means answering the questions, “How safe do I feel when dining out?” “Does the staff care about my safety?”
Kalli Bonham, a regular guest at Gaslight Group's The 5 Spot restaurant in Savannah, said she does not feel comfortable eating out yet, as she thinks the confidence to enter a restaurant may be grounded on an individual’s gut instinct rather than numbers.