It is no secret that restaurants were hit particularly hard during COVID-19. The nature of restaurants as places where diners get together in close quarters, eating and drinking, laughing and getting closer and closer to hear one another, all made it abundantly clear that indoor dining would be one of the biggest industries to suffer.
And so they were. Many beloved restaurants shuttered their doors. For the unfortunate restaurateurs who opted to hang a shingle in 2019, they never really stood a chance.
But just as bad as it was for communities to lose their favorite eateries, dozens of people were losing their jobs for every restaurant – and that was whether the restaurant survived or not.
At the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold is that many restaurants survived, and they did this by making important changes. Some of those changes were long coming, and the industry will forever be the better for it.
Here is a look at some of the industry's changes that are here to stay – all (hopefully) for the better.
A Shift in Restaurant Culture
For a more grim reckoning, with a happy ending, it seems that restaurant culture is changing for the better. Reports of sexual harassment, late hours, addiction, abuse, the levels of which have been glamorized on television, strife between back and front of the house, and little regard for self-care have been a hallmark of the restaurant industry over the past few decades.
These ugly realities have been endured by many in restaurants, and perhaps due to the late nights, the implicit spirit around spirits, and the transient nature of the industry it seemed to be a mainstay.
But as restaurants became the hardest hit for-profit sector, something changed. Restaurant workers began to band together, caring for one another. Managers became grief-stricken, having to lay off loyal workers and strove to find creative means of keeping the team together. Once seen as taboo, calling in sick was now received with compassion.
Take Out and Delivery is Becoming a Regular Service
The restaurants that were able to survive the pandemic did so because they were able to pivot their business model to include (or amplify) take-out and delivery.
Many restaurants, particularly fine dining establishments, have traditionally been loath to consider offering take-out and delivery if their model was not initially designed in that way.
The reasons are understandable – perfectly prepared food often does not survive journeys very well. Delivery drivers and couriers are bound to jostle the packages meaning that presentation will be compromised.
Food that has cooled down on a journey may need to be reheated, and that can change flavors and consistencies. And finally, some fine dining is meant to be curated as an overall experience that includes an ambiance that can no longer be orchestrated when the destination is unknown.
But with delivery apps and creative solutions, many restaurants have found that changing their model to include these options can be done in a good way, and it even expands the reach of their service.
One exciting pivot has been meal kits' advent (or reinvention). This is an option with a lot of uptake from more high-end restaurants that do not want to risk compromising the quality of their food with delivery.
With meal kits, well-known restaurants will package their pre-made sauces and other ingredients with all of the cooking and preparation instructions for customers to pick up or have delivered. Specially prepared ingredients and instructions ensure a dining experience that mimics in-house eating.
Outdoor Dining & Pop-ups
Cities trying to help beloved establishments survive did everything they could to help out. One of the crowd-pleaser adaptations has been the expansion of outdoor dining. Many major cities cordoned off sections of streets, sidewalks, and parking lots to provide more room for outdoor seating.
Outdoor dining is certainly not new, but it allows diners to enjoy an ambiance while going out to eat without being worried about transmission. This was great not only for customers but also staff who were working on the front lines.
Many who loved the expansion of outdoor dining during COVID-19 are hopeful that cities will continue to support restaurants to open up street patios every summer. This project is an exciting way of reclaiming the streets from cars and traffic, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists.
Similarly, social media-based pop-ups became more popular as brick and mortar establishments no longer seemed as necessary. Micro restaurants and bakeries advertised themselves on Facebook or Instagram and made deliveries or provided pick-up locations.
Moving into the future, it is exciting to consider a post-pandemic restaurant experience replete with all of these advancements. Restaurants have been working under the same tired model for decades, and some innovations were sorely wanted.
Restaurants should plan to move forward in a way where they are looking out for new ways of improving their business and employees, such as looking into assets like Tiphaus. While we are not yet in a post-pandemic world, it is exciting to consider what opportunities are just around the corner.