While restrictions have eased and restaurant sales are seeing an increase, the restaurant industry is far from normal. During the first three months of the pandemic alone, the National Restaurant Association estimates that the restaurant and foodservice industry lost over $120 billion of revenue. And over half of all restaurants are expected to remain permanently closed.
Placing a further strain on restaurant owners are ongoing public health concerns and social distancing mandates. In order to survive and meet safety demands, operators need to get creative, inventive, and innovative. Here are a few examples of how restaurants are responding to COVID-19 with new concepts and innovations:
Socially distanced outdoor dining has been a hit with residents and restaurants. It allows operators to operate at a high capacity while giving diners a sense of safety and security. Spacious outdoor dining keeps patrons and servers from congregating indoors, where the coronavirus is transmitted more easily. Across the country, restaurants are spreading out to streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. And local governments are making the permit process easier and more expedient than ever.
In response to seating capacity guidelines, restaurants are thinking of creative, if not unusual, ways to fill the empty seats. The Inn at Little Washington in D.C. turned to mannequins to make their space feel less empty. In keeping with their theatrical ambiance, they dressed mannequins in 1940s outfits and seated them throughout the dining room. Other restaurants are using dolls, stuffed animals, or even cardboard cutouts of customers to emulate the appearance of a bustling restaurant.
Rethinking Table Elements
From menus to condiments to salt and pepper, there are countless table items that customers might touch. Restaurants are thinking of new ways to reduce customer interactions with these surfaces. Instead of placing sugar or salt on the table, some restaurants require that a patron ask a server first. Instead of reusable menus, restaurants are opting for disposable, paper menus, or even virtual menus that can be accessed via QR codes. All of these changes reduce the exchange of germs over surfaces.
From Restauranteur to Grocer
Chefs know not just how to cook but where to get the best ingredients. Several establishments have temporarily pivoted their business model to grocery distribution in an attempt to weather the financial storm. Selling seasonal, fresh, and high-quality goods, restaurants are able to remain financially afloat.
Stranded at home, families across the nation are suffering from extreme boredom. A number of establishments are capitalizing off of the collective lack of activity, by selling make-at-home meal kits. Bakeries are offering cookie or cupcake decorating kits — not just a sweet treat but also a fun activity for kids. Pizzerias are selling pizza kits or par-baked pizza. Even Vietnamese and Mexican cuisines are riffing on the kit concept, with at-home pho and taco activities.
Local restaurants are the lifeblood of our communities, and they are also among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. While the industry is full of creative and flexible minds, government support is essential for its survival. Unlike most small businesses, restaurants rely entirely on current business. Without revenue, they are unable to pay their rent, taxes, and employees — resulting in a far-reaching ripple effect. Economic assistance is critical for bringing back the industry, and our economy.