It’s safe to say our nation’s dining rooms are pretty quiet these days. Because of COVID-19, quick-service restaurants have seen a tremendous shift from on-premises dining to carryout and delivery.

A November survey of the National Restaurant Association reported that 66 percent of consumers had ordered takeout or delivery for dinner in the week prior to the survey, up from 58 percent during the last week of February, before the pandemic hit.

This past year was challenging for everyone, but especially those of us in the restaurant business. Some restaurants struggled to stay open as COVID-19 fears grew as quickly as government guidelines changed. Others had to pivot to figure out curbside pickup, contactless delivery and grocery programs. All of us had to comply with new protocols such as wearing masks and putting up Plexiglas sneeze guards, to combat an invisible threat.

The changes restaurant owners had to make in 2020, however, may leave us better equipped for the future. Making it easier for our guests to patronize our restaurants, and making them feel safe when they do, will help us maintain our customers’ trust and loyalty. In 2021, convenience and safety will win the day.

Make It Easy

We all made great strides in convenience in 2020. Although some guests are anxious for the day that they can sit in a restaurant and enjoy a meal, you can be sure that delivery, curbside pickup and online ordering aren’t going away.

The National Restaurant Association’s survey showed that the percentage of consumers ordering takeout or delivery for dinner climbed quickly as the pandemic hit, peaking during the initial lockdown period, then leveling off to about 65 percent midsummer. The exception was for coffeeshops, which saw a drop in breakfast traffic as fewer people were commuting. Overall, survey respondents said they expected to continue off-premises dining more frequently in the coming months.

Generational differences also were clear in how consumers have altered their eating habits. The survey showed baby boomers—those whose age put them at highest risk—made the biggest changes, with 60 percent ordering takeout or delivery for dinner during that particular week in November, up from only 41 percent in late February. Millennials and Gen X’ers, who were home with their families more because so many events and activities were paused, depended on the convenience of delivery and carryout more and anticipated continuing to eat in more often.

At Goodcents, we pivoted to provide hearty, nutritious Goodcents To Go meals such as pot roast, salmon and chicken alfredo. These conveniently packaged to-go meals meet the needs of our guests who are looking for good-tasting, balanced meals that are ready to serve.

Because of the increased takeout business, we are recommending drive-thrus for all new Goodcents locations that can accommodate them.

Keep It Clean

Restaurants also must prioritize protecting our guests as well as our front-line workers, who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic.

In late January, Goodcents launched its Certified Clean Program to keep both guests and crew members safer. A no-contact temperature check device called a ThermoVu is installed by the front door of every restaurant. Crew members are required to use them, and they also are available for guests. Whenever someone enters a Goodcents, they can simply hold their wrist up to the device to be assured that they don’t have an above-normal temperature.

Additionally, every restaurant is equipped with an electrostatic sprayer and Shield Disinfectant Sanitizer products. Electrostatic sprayers can disinfect even the hardest-to-reach corners and are considered vital in the fight against COVID-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses. Shield™ products are made in the USA, approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and are food-safe.

Yes, this new program requires an upfront investment. The equipment alone will cost $1,500-$2,000 per location. Goodcents, as the franchisor, is providing the ThermoVu to each franchise location and has negotiated a discount for franchisees for electrostatic sprayers. But it’s hard to put a price tag on keeping people safe.

At the end of the day, the investments we made to make life a little more convenient for our guests, and to help guests and crew members feel safe, will pay returns on several fronts. We have more ways than ever to serve our customers. Our cleaning procedures are more thorough. And we’ll know that we made a difference in our communities’ health and well-being.

Farrellynn Wolf is CEO of Goodcents. 

Outside Insights, Story