Although food is considered an essential business, the coronavirus pandemic is causing tens of thousands of restaurants to shut their doors for good. In most states, restaurants are allowed to stay open for takeout, but many can’t survive on takeout income alone. Takeout service is only profitable for outlets like pizzerias, Chinese Food, coffee, and convenience items.
Although we’ve lost many small restaurants and pubs, we haven’t lost them all. In an attempt to preserve their livelihoods, determined restaurant owners are coming up with genius ways to stay open for business and protect their guests at the same time. Here’s what some of them are doing.
1. Self-service table ordering
The future is definitely here with contactless self-service table ordering, although it’s not entirely new. For instance, for many years, The Olive Garden has been allowing customers to order, pay, and play games on a tablet that sits on their table. However, guests are still greeted by waitstaff and aren’t required to use the system.
All that is about to change. In states where restaurants are allowed to stay open for dine-in service, their occupancy limits are greatly restricted. Since occupancy limits include staff, those businesses will probably jump on the opportunity to reduce waitstaff to serve more guests. A table ordering system is the ideal solution.
With the current demand to limit contact between people, a table ordering system will also eliminate the need for waitstaff to interact with guests until their meals are ready. Per table, this only eliminates two points of contact—the greeting/ordering process and the payment process—but becomes significant when multiplied by a full day of guests.
2. Creating outdoor ‘indoor’ dining spaces
Some warmer states, including Arizona and Kentucky, still allow outdoor dining. However, dining outside in the winter in Washington or Oregon isn’t appealing. Even in Arizona, most outdoor diners will need to wear a coat to be comfortable. Hardly the ideal dining experience.
Some may say it’s cheating the system, but restaurant owners have found a way to make outdoor dining comfortable for guests despite cold weather. Many are erecting pop-up tents to enclose diners and protect them from the rain and wind. Technically, this creates an indoor-outdoor dining space, but still falls under the definition of outdoor dining.
Some restaurants are investing a good chunk of change in individual pop-up tents to cover 2-person tables outside. Others, like this list of Seattle restaurants, have covered, heated, and tented patios. Many of these restaurants, like Gracia, have posted the protocols they’re following to keep diners safe.
It seems that if a restaurant is going to survive long-term, outdoor dining with a covered, warm space will be a must.
3. Delivery services
Restaurant delivery service is more desirable than ever. In addition to a ban on indoor dining, many people are afraid to leave their homes. Or, they’re at home with young kids, and it’s a hassle to get everyone in the car just to pick up some lunch.
Restaurants that provide delivery services to people during the pandemic are going to stay in business longer. The cost of setting up a delivery service will be a barrier to some, but the small business owners who have the available budget, it’s a wise move.
The downside is that smaller businesses can’t survive on delivery income. The cost is too high. However, restaurant corporations with a larger budget have the option of signing up for third-party delivery services like GrubHub.
4. Online ordering
If a restaurant doesn’t already offer online ordering, they’re behind the times. Some restaurant owners have been dragging their feet because they’re not tech-savvy. However, the coronavirus pandemic is providing the necessary motivation to ‘get with the program.’
Online ordering solves many problems and limits contact at the same time. Depending on the restaurant, guests can order online, make reservations online, and check in for curbside service when they arrive.
5. Curbside pickup services
Curbside pickup has been popular for a while, but mostly with larger chains. Now even small restaurants are offering curbside pickup, so guests don’t need to enter the store.
Curbside pickup isn’t likely a passing phase that will end when the pandemic ends. Statistics show that people overwhelmingly favor curbside pickup from their favorite restaurants.
The silver lining to the pandemic
There is a silver lining to the push for contactless restaurant services: convenience. People want convenience. In the immediate future, we can expect to see more restaurants offer heated, covered outdoor dining, online ordering, and dedicated parking spaces to curbside pickup.