The pandemic has sent a ripple effect through every industry, impacting health, jobs, and our day to day lives. In what has now been infamously dubbed “the new normal,” our reality has completely changed due to the spread of COVID-19.
Among those who have been hardest hit is the restaurant industry. Mere months ago, people were cramming into their favorite restaurants to try the latest chef creations. Crowds were gathering for sports, concerts, and events, driving foot traffic to restaurants in highly populated areas, while bustling schools and office parks were keeping on-premises dining establishments busy. Then the lockdown procedures began and the restaurant experience as we know it ended.
Restaurants quickly closed their doors for the safety of their staff and customers. While many pivoted to offer curbside pickup and delivery options, many more were unable to make it through the initial quarantine phase.
High operating costs, low margins, and the inability to welcome guests in the door resulted in restaurants across the country closing their doors for good. Not only that, but COVID-related health risks and, in some cases, government relief payments have been reason enough for servers to opt out of returning to work for the time being.
Of the restaurants left standing, over half are expecting to take at least a year to return to profitability. Seventy-five percent have said it’s unlikely their restaurants would be profitable within the next six months. This estimation assumes the pandemic won’t get significantly worse, but offers no guarantee of survival for those struggling.
The pressure on restaurants to improve safety measures, coupled with the need to improve efficiency and profitability, means restaurants need long-term solutions that meet the rapidly evolving expectations of customers. The need for contactless restaurant experiences has changed from a nice-to-have to a necessity.
With the future of the industry being so uncertain, failing to adopt tech solutions now could be detrimental to restaurants’ longevity.
A restaurant’s ability to drastically increase safety by turning to technology like contactless payment options, digital menus, and tablets to replace face-to-face ordering could be the determining factor in whether they can successfully reopen and stay in business.
Quick-service restaurants have always been at the forefront of tech adoption. The quick order turnaround time enables brands to manage the guest ordering experience through drive-thru, self-serve kiosk, and order-at-till touchpoints all simultaneously. This ability and aptitude for innovation leaves quick-serves in a strong position to take the next leap forward as leaders in the dining space and lead by example for other restaurant verticals.
By utilizing the right front-of-house technology, restaurants can help reduce contact between staff and guests and ensure a safe environment when reopening and establishing new patterns. For example, enabling customers to treat their own smartphones as virtual ordering tablets reduces touchpoints with staff, drastically reducing the risk of infection.
Many restaurants are also adopting new tech to enhance safety for both staff and guests in the path to purchase. Contactless payment and QR-enabled menus are becoming increasingly popular in reducing risks while empowering customers with the ability to customize their ordering experience.
Employment numbers in the restaurant industry plummeted during the first few months of the pandemic, with record lows in April and a significant year over year drop in June. Implementing tech-enabled ordering and payment solutions is necessary not only for improving safety, but also to fill the employment gap for restaurants unable to hire enough staff to continue operations.
When looking back at the pandemic from the other side, those restaurants operating in the Quick Service and Fast Casual categories that leaned into rapid tech adoption will be the ones that come out more resilient than ever.
So what can restaurants do now to ensure they’re future-proofing their business for a second wave or another pandemic?
This pandemic has been a wakeup call for restaurants; a defining moment that has caused hardships but also some key learnings that, if acted upon, can help restaurants become pandemic-proof and stronger than ever before.
Developing a strong customer experience is only the foundation for restaurants. If this pandemic has taught the industry anything, it’s that the urgent need to diversify service channels to offer more than the dine-in experience is crucial. Integrating technology solutions that enable restaurants to serve customers remotely and with touchless ordering options will be key as the pandemic progresses.
The future of restaurant operations will be largely based on strict health and safety guidelines. Restaurants need to answer the call for stricter measures with tangible solutions that feel seamless to customers if they have any hope of surviving.
Since joining Givex in 2003, Brittain Brown has held various managerial roles in the National Accounts and Operations divisions and has been responsible for some of the company’s largest client successes. As President, Brown has driven Givex’s international expansion efforts and overseen the successful acquisition of new additions to the Givex family of companies. His leadership and passion for people have been instrumental in the company’s explosive growth.