The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the restaurant industry isn’t short-term. Even as we begin to see the primary stages of restaurant reopenings and diners returning, things are going to look different for quite some time, for both restaurants and diners alike.
Restaurants operate on margins thinner than any other industry. Since they were forced to close, they had no choice but to adapt quickly from on-premise revenue streams to a shifted focus to online ordering for takeout and delivery, in order to survive. Restaurants also needed to get creative to keep revenue flowing. They began offering to-go meal kits, doing virtual cooking classes and selling digital gift cards and branded merchandise. One of our customers, Rocco’s Tacos, a quick service restaurant, signed up for our online ordering service to offer curbside pickup.
These new revenue streams have proven successful for many, but a growing eagerness remains among restaurants to move forward in the reopening process. Diners and restaurant employees are craving a return to the dining experience we all know and love, while also ensuring that everyone remains safe.
To help restaurant owners navigate this period beyond government guidelines, we conducted a survey to gain insight about what diners expect from restaurants. We found that 88 percent of diners expect restaurant staff to be required to wear masks and gloves within the first month of reopening. Further, we found that the largest concern of diners post-COVID-19 will be the cleanliness of tables and prepared food. This is essential information for restaurants to consider as they think through what reopening looks like for their business.
More than ever, technology that empowers direct communication with diners is essential for restaurants and that starts with their websites. As shown by the data, diners indicate that a restaurant’s website is the No. 1 source to find the most up-to-date information. As the restaurant’s digital storefront, their website acts as the online destination that most accurately reflects the hospitality experience they aim to deliver and provides a direct, central touchpoint between them and their guests.
In addition to effective communication, technology providers need to ensure that restaurants have the products and tools necessary to effortlessly deliver a true hospitality experience that is safe for both diners and staff. At BentoBox, we’re developing new products such as branded digital menus that are optimized for mobile viewing and the ability for restaurants to accept dine-in orders placed at the table, in order to support safe, contactless dining for restaurants.
Whether it’s managing their website, accepting online orders, or running digital marketing campaigns, restaurants are relying on multiple technology platforms now more than ever. Restaurant owners opened restaurants to serve guests and create lasting experiences - not to become technology experts. It is now the responsibility of technology providers to work together seamlessly so that restaurant operations never become overly complicated. The key is to make the restaurant operator's life easier while anticipating the customer’s needs and creating a safe and healthy hospitality experience for all.
As restaurants reopen, it’s imperative that we continue to track safety closely to ensure that staff and guests are not at risk. This will undoubtedly result in a restaurant experience that is different from the one we know and love. It may feel unnatural in these first few months, and it might not work for everyone, but it’s important for restaurants to adapt to their customers’ evolving needs.
What is undeniable is that diners want to feel safe and enjoy their dining out experiences. At BentoBox, we asked ourselves, “How can we help restaurants deliver something that resembles their vision of hospitality in this new world?” We’re finding that the answer lies at the cross section of new technology aimed at making restaurant operations as effortless as possible and a willingness to adapt and embrace the fact that the restaurant experience may be fundamentally changed for years to come.
Krystle Mobayeni is the cofounder and CEO of BentoBox, a hospitality platform that empowers restaurants with revenue-driving websites and online ordering.