Even before COVID-19 upended economic and social routines, the restaurant category wasn’t doing that great. Now, restaurants are in an even tougher position. With the elimination of dine-in and the necessary use in many cases of low-margin, third-party delivery, this isn’t a sustainable business model for many restaurants big and small.
With that context in mind, there is advice for restaurants to live by – informed decisions and steps to take now that could position locations and franchisees for success once normalcy starts to gradually return.
- Make diners feel safe and protected. There will be pent-up demand that translates to restaurants when things open up. But, consumers will be cautious. A restaurant that is committed to and communicates efforts to maintain high degrees of cleanliness and food safety will stand out above those that don’t. So, fewer tables in the dining room? Self-serve anything will most likely be gone. Watching other customers go through a salad bar may be a frightening sight. Sneeze guards just won’t be enough. Hand sanitizers should be present and accessible. We may see more government regulations, especially when it comes to operational scrutiny.
- Free delivery may be a new cost of entry. There isn’t an exit strategy to something that customers have come to expect and will continue to demand. Hesitation to dine “on-premise” may last for months. Accept this transition in customer expectation and shift your business to meet the demand where it is taking place.
- Millennials will emerge as your core customers, if they weren’t already. This generational cohort will have just gone through possibly the most behavior changing experience of their lives. They won’t put up with out of stock or no longer on the menu, slow or poor service. They just won’t come back. Restaurants are going to have be more labor efficient and put tighter controls on their supply chain.
- For QSRs and fast-casual brands in particular, thru-put systems need to bring a sense of structure and safe distanced flow. Nothing clunky or bunched up. Rearrange, open up your dining rooms and your cues now, while you have the time. As always, but much more importantly post-Covid, your restaurant will have to build a level of trust with your guests.
There is no crystal ball – no one knows for certain how business will emerge from this climate. What we do know is that nothing will be the same as it previously was – being adaptable and capable of quick transition will help restaurants find their footing in the not-so-distant future.