A little more than a year ago, the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt. It is impossible to overstate the impact the pandemic had and continues to have on all aspects of public and private life; from an economy in deficit, to grieving families, no one was spared. It is no secret that the service industry as a whole has been devastated by breaks in the supply chain, lack of in-person customers and looming leases. Recovery will take years, and so much will never return to what we once considered normal.

The difficulties and devastation are real and well-documented; while we continue to grapple with them, I would like to take this space to highlight the incredible creativity and innovation that our industry has developed. Having taken the helm of Rōti as CEO in early 2020, I had a front row seat to this ingenuity. We had one of two options; sit back, wait and hope that things would resume as usual, or take the opportunity to re-evaluate how we do business. While the world was on hold, we were not.

A few shifts stand out as particularly noteworthy: the expanding role of digital, the reimagination of menus, and a renewed dedication to the vital staff that supports our businesses. Innovations in these areas have bolstered the industry during the crisis, and will lead to continuous growth once COVID is further in the rearview mirror.

The immediate shift online at the onset of the pandemic was no surprise, but the incarnations varied widely. High-end restaurants got into the pickup and delivery game thanks to platforms like Tock, while others doubled-down on FOH-less ghost kitchens. At Rōti, we focused simultaneously on optimizing the crossover points between digital and physical by launching curbside, and rallied resources around an improved online ordering experience. I am excited to announce that we will launch our updated Rōti.com in a few short weeks. If there was still a question that digital excellence was key to restaurants’ success, COVID put it to rest.

Increased incorporation of digital platforms allowed restaurants to pivot their offerings toward what consumers truly wanted and needed. Both independent spots and large multi-unit chains revised their menus, focusing on familiar customer favorites that they could always execute to perfection. With a menu based around exploring flavors of the Mediterranean, the Rōti team took a hard look at how we could meet this need. We sent out hundreds of new meals to existing and new customers to get their input, and built a menu that included approachable and interesting meals, as well as more adventurous options that found broad appeal.

Throughout all of this, the people behind the food have been on all of our minds. As restaurants reopen, hiring will be difficult as employees battle with concerns about the safety of themselves and their families. Improving compensation and benefits packages will be key in successfully staffing restaurants, but recruiters should not stop there. At Rōti, we found that in-depth training and clear growth opportunities are equally important, so we overhauled our training protocols to increase engagementboth in the training sessions and with the customers. We also cross-train all our staff, so they are as comfortable grilling our steak as serving our customers, setting them up as well-rounded employees within the food service industry.

Rōti, along with many others in the restaurant industry, is fighting every day to bring our food and dining experience back to as many customers as possible, as safely as possible. At Rōti, we see these trying times as an opportunity to usher in a new wave of consumers who want to fuel their bodies with good food, and smarter options. It is our job to genuinely care about our customers and our staff, our vendors and our partners. We want them to feel cherished, educated and fulfilled throughout their dining experience.

In order for us to come out on the other end of this crisis we all need to continue to adapt, while providing a sense of hope and familiarity to the communities in which we live and work. As an industry, we have an unprecedented second chance to make a first impression. For Rōti, that means a fresh look, new menu, doubling down on our digital capabilities and establishing new training programs to enhance our hospitality. For you, the opportunity might look the same or very different, but one thing is sure: if there is an industry that has all the ingredients (pun intended) to rise to the challenge of this moment, it is ours.

Justin Seamonds is the CEO of Rōti. Justin took the helm as Chief Executive Officer of Rōti in early 2020. His experience leading middle-market consumer businesses, driving top and bottom line growth, along with brand value enhancements is our key to drive Rōti forward. Over his 25+ years of experience, Justin held executive level roles in a number of companies including Dean & DeLuca and Snack Street. Justin holds an MBA from Duke University.

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