Every week we comb through the news to find employment trends affecting the hospitality industry so you don’t have to. This week’s topic: the state of the hospitality industry one year into COVID-19.
When the coronavirus emerged in early 2020, we had no idea how severely it would impact the country and that life as we knew it was going to change for the foreseeable future. Now, a year later, things are looking up while cities are managing widespread vaccine distribution with hopes that we can enjoy a more normal and safer 2021.
Besides healthcare, the hospitality and foodservice industries were impacted most by the pandemic. According to Fortune, over 110,000 bars and restaurants permanently closed in 2020 because they could not survive through the restrictions placed by the pandemic and the lack of financial support from congress. Now that restrictions are continuing to loosen while venues welcome guests back, we can begin to understand the true impact of the coronavirus on the hospitality industry – what we’ve learned, what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same.
What Have We Learned?
Restaurants are more essential than we thought
If asked prior to the pandemic, most people would probably say that restaurants and bars are not essential businesses. But once restaurants began shutting down and the gravity of the situation was realized, it seemed like more people than ever were yearning to dine-out at their favorite spots despite the immediate health risks. Not only that, but those foodservice employees that were not furloughed or laid off had to continue working, now prioritized as essential workers.
Guests are willing to be flexible
Despite consumer sentiment varying throughout the pandemic, some guests have proven that they’re willing to be flexible when it comes to following the restrictions that allowed them to dine-out. For example, guests in northern and midwestern cities were willing to sit outside in freezing temperatures in makeshift outdoor patios so they could eat their favorite restaurant meals. This illustrates just how valuable dining-out is to some people.
Adaptability is key for survival
It quickly became apparent that delivery and to-go options were necessary for a restaurants chance at survival. Now that customers couldn’t go to the food, they wanted to bring the food to them. By not offering these options, you made yourself inaccessible to the masses who used third-party delivery apps like GrubHub or DoorDash.
Similarly, adapting to technology played a big role in survival. Concerns over the safety of handling cash combined with the need to have completely contactless ordering and payment options meant that you had to have the right technology; and without it, customers would find somewhere they felt more comfortable dining.
Most restaurants can streamline offerings
Restaurant operators had to find a creative way to continue offering the menu items their guests loved while cutting back on costs and eliminating any (unaffordable) waste. This included cutting items from the menu, creating new options based off available food items, or selling products like bottles of liquor or at home meal kits. This shows that outside the pandemic, it might be a good idea to revisit what your restaurant is offering to remove any unpopular or unnecessary items.
QSR’s aren’t going anywhere
With an increased desire for vegetarian, vegan, and other healthy options, the future of quick service or fast-food restaurants seemed uncertain for a few years. But with the emergence of the pandemic, their popularity seems to be restored because they provide inexpensive menu items and offered limited contact to begin with. Now that the public has reignited their interest, it seems that popular fast-food restaurants are trying to ‘get with the times’ by starting to offer vegetarian and vegan options, like in the case of Taco Bells vegetarian menu or Burger King’s Impossible Whopper.
Healthy options aside, the rise of the QSR is apparent in other ways such as Chipotle’s big plans for this year: opening “Chipotlanes” across the country so customers don’t have to leave their cars.
Food-delivery apps report that the pandemic has caused business to double as more and more people turned to delivery to quench their dine-out thirst. Even as restrictions loosen, we can expect delivery options to be a main stay for any popular restaurant that aims to stay competitive and agile.
It’s safe to say that all hospitality venues, whether it be a bar, restaurant, or hotel, will make cleanliness standards a priority long after life has returned to normal. Some safety features like plastic partitions, sanitizing in between guests, and scannable menus will likely be main stays for some high traffic locations.
Even before the pandemic, ghost kitchens were growing in popularity. Ghost kitchens are professional food preparation and cooking facilities created to produce delivery-only meals – so you can imagine how important they became during the pandemic. Also called dark or virtual kitchens, ghost kitchens allow operators to grow their brand and continue serving customers without having a physical space to dine at. Ghost kitchens are a great way to lower costs while producing quality food and aren’t affected by dine-in restrictions, which is why we’ll continue to see them popping up frequently.
When it became apparent that outdoor dining was a safer option, major cities allocated funds for restaurants to create outdoor seating areas. Bars and restaurants got creative when building the patios, some of them resembling miniature restaurants. Fear of a fourth wave or a surge of new cases will likely drive restaurants to prioritize offering indoor and outdoor seating.
The past few years have seen an increase in restaurants going cashless or contactless, with chip readers and options like Apple Pay becoming the norm. It doesn’t seem like anyone is jumping at the chance to handle paper money, so the continuation of contactless ordering, pickup, and payment is high.
What’s Stayed the Same?
As it stands, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that hasn’t changed in the restaurant industry due to the pandemic. The very nature of the industry seems to directly oppose the restrictions forced in place by the virus. Perhaps the one thing that’s stayed the same is the passion and dedication from restaurant employees, who risked (and continue to risk) their safety in order to provide a great experience for guests who want some normalcy and to have a little fun.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the stop button on life as we knew it just over a year ago. The hospitality industry was hit hard, and it’s likely that there will be changes that will last for a long time. But thanks to the thousands of hardworking employees across the country, we know we’ll get back to where we were soon.