As COVID-19 swept through the world earlier this year, it hit the food and beverage industry especially hard. Restaurants look a lot different now than they did just one short year ago. However, like the American spirit, resilience will prevail, and we’re already witnessing many innovative changes happening to adapt to this new normal. Many industry professionals predict these changes are here to stay, even once the COVID crisis has passed.
Here are seven key restaurant trends that you can expect to see long after 2020 is gone.
1. More Emphasis on Takeout and Delivery
Even prior to COVID, online ordering and delivery services had been increasing in popularity. As the pandemic swept through the nation earlier this year, this trend accelerated as restaurants were forced to halt dine-in service in many areas. A direct effect of that was takeout and delivery options became the only way restaurants could keep their business afloat.
These services provided a much safer way to get customers to continue ordering from their favorite restaurants. Delivery services like Uber Eats even implemented a “leave at the door” service to eliminate non-essential contact between the driver and the customer.
More emphasis on delivery and takeout will likely be a lasting trend for restaurants.
2. Condensed Menus
Cutting kitchen costs doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice customer satisfaction or their taste buds. Due to the significant shift to takeout and delivery, restaurants all over the country have decided to downsize their menus to cut down on food costs and waste.
Conducting a thorough inventory audit shows restaurants what menu items are top sellers (and the ones that aren’t) and which ingredients are widely shared between menu items. By creating a more concise menu, restaurants can cross-utilize ingredients for multiple dishes and ultimately cut back on food waste.
3. A Shift to Outdoor and Socially Distanced Dining
As the pandemic plays out, we’ve seen that social distancing seems to be an effective way of containing the spread. In the first few months, indoor dining was prohibited. Now that restaurants are opening their doors again, outdoor dining is the perfect alternative for the warm summer months. However, as colder months roll in, this new arrangement will pose a challenge.
As restaurant owners find ways to maximize indoor dining services while following protocols to keep customers and employees safe, there is no lack of creativity in this department. At a popular Ohio breakfast spot, Twisted Citrus, plastic shower curtains were installed between tables to comply with social distancing standards.
With a little bit of creativity, hard work, and commitment to social distancing, restaurant owners can keep their doors open until the world returns to normal.
4. The Emergence of New Technology and Contactless Payments
The need for higher sanitation standards and procedures also leads to a sharper focus on a contactless customer experience. Contactless payments and ordering processes, delivery methods, menus, and other non-essential contact are a few ways that restaurants can become more sanitary and reduce customer to employee contact.
Restaurant technology has become more prominent since COVID-19. Many of these solutions have been around for a while, but the pandemic has thrust them into the spotlight. Here are some of the technologies and payment solutions that you can expect to see popping up more and more in restaurants and bars.
QR Pay and Contactless Pay
Even before COVID-19, contactless payment methods were on the rise and the pandemic is now accelerating this change in consumer behavior. More restaurants are widely accepting mobile wallet solutions such as Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay. Mobile payment terminals such as SkyTab support these contactless NFC transactions to create a contactless experience.
Much like NFC transactions, QR code payment options are 100 percent contactless and will be on the rise for years to come due to the pandemic. New QR payment options such as QR Pay provide contactless payment technology by scanning a unique code with a smartphone to complete a transaction. QR code technology is especially useful at restaurants and bars, which don’t typically have NFC devices present at the point of purchase. QR codes can also offer additional capabilities in the restaurant space, such as mobile ordering, to further reduce contact and improve efficiency.
Contactless Menus and Online Ordering Platforms
These types of menus have been popping up in restaurants as soon as dine-in was permitted again. With a simple scan of a QR code from any smartphone, restaurants can provide their menu to consumers without any physical contact. And we all know the menu is one of the germiest items found in a restaurant.
Along the lines of QR menus, digital menu boards are also a great way to reduce contact in your restaurant. Rather than printing hundreds of one-time-use paper menus, digital menu boards are a contactless and easy way to display your menu and other marketing messages. Plus, it’s much more eco-friendly than paper.
In addition to digital menus, online ordering platforms have been restaurant owners’ saving grace since the beginning of the pandemic. Platforms such as SkyTab Online, allow restaurants to create a fully branded online ordering website and provide them with a seamless POS integration.
Third-Party Delivery and Reservation Platforms
Full-service restaurants that didn’t have access to delivery staff fell shorthanded at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, third party ordering and delivery platforms have proven their importance. Platforms such as DoorDash and Uber Eats have been gaining popularity for a few years now, and became more critical amid COVID-19. Harbortouch’s third-party Marketplace enables restaurants to integrate these services seamlessly into their POS system, eliminating the need for separate tablet devices to manage incoming delivery orders.
Not only do full service restaurants take advantage of third-party delivery platforms, but ghost kitchens do as well. Ghost kitchens mainly provide the kitchen portion of a restaurant without on-premises dining or any customer interaction, and shifts its focus towards takeout services through apps like DoorDash and UberEats.
Many restaurants used online reservation platforms before the pandemic, such as OpenTable. Due to new social distancing standards for restaurants, reservation platforms had to be tweaked to accommodate the new rules. Some of these changes include seating at bars, waitlists, and even capacity monitoring tools to ensure guests’ safety and avoid distancing issues. Since the costs can be high for third-party reservation platforms, Harbortouch includes a free online reservation system that’s integrated right into the POS system.
Virtual Tip Jars and Gift Cards
We all know how much bacteria live on cash, which is why many establishments are implementing no-cash policies, including tipping. Virtual tip jars have popped up on the radar for U.S. bartenders and servers who were unable to collect their usual tips — which for most, is their livelihood.
E-gift cards or virtual gift cards have been around for years, although they have become a lot more commonplace today. Consumers can easily send each other e-gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants instead of going to a physical location to pick up a gift card. Virtual gift card sales also helped thousands of restaurants struggling to pay their bills during the beginning of the pandemic due to the sudden closure of establishments across the country.
5. At-Home Food and Beverage Experiences
At the beginning of the nation-wide shutdown, many restaurants were forced to think outside the box and came up with alternatives to their usual dine-in experiences. Thanks to relaxed takeout liquor laws, some restaurants decided to make DIY cocktail kits, DIY meal kits, and other options along those lines.
Full-service restaurants that traditionally create an amazing in-house customer experience quickly began creating unique experiences for consumers to enjoy in the safety of their own homes.
These are just a few examples of creativity from bars and restaurants:
- Decorate-your-own donuts from Dunkin’
- Margarita kit from El Arroyo (Austin, TX)
- Family meal kit form Junzi (NYC)
- DIY pizza kit and cooking instructions from Pi Guy (St. Louis, MO)
While this trend was most prevalent when restaurants couldn’t physically be open to the public, consumers were delighted with this option. Many restaurant owners used this untapped market to their advantage. They will likely continue using these types of DIY kits to offset the decrease of dine-in services.
6. Increased Need For Transparency from Bars and Restaurants
An emphasis on sanitation and food safety was always prevalent in the restaurant industry. However, in a post-COVID world, a whole new set of standards is taking over. Providing transparency about the cleanliness of your restaurant will help customers feel comfortable about dining at your establishment and keep them coming back.
Concerns about safety precautions remain high, so it is important to reassure customers that you are doing everything you can to maintain a sanitary and safe environment. Based on a study conducted by Data Essential, QSR Magazine reports that 76 percent of participants say a restaurant’s cleanliness and food safety will matter more to them after COVID-19.
This level of concern by consumers is forcing restaurants to take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of their patrons and employees alike. Such measures include:
- Reduced indoor dining capacity to adhere to social distancing recommendations
- Packaged and single-use cutlery
- Plate coverings over meals being served to tables
- Mask policies while entering the restaurant and walking around dining areas
As for bars, according to industry expert Jon Taffer, consumers are likely to return to a bar setting in three waves. The first wave will consist of younger individuals who are fearless and will return to bars as soon as they’re permitted to open their doors. The second wave consists of what Taffer calls “the reserved third.” The group of consumers who will wait a few weeks to see what happens to the first wave before they decide to return to the bars or not. The third wave, or “the certain third,” is the group who will not return to bars until they are 100% sure it is safe to do so.
7. Eco-Friendly Restaurants
In a pre-pandemic world, restaurant owners already started emphasizing eco-friendly establishments. Cutting back on food waste has become more important than ever to cut costs, but there are other changes that kitchens are making to reduce all waste to become more sustainable.
Although not directly related to COVID, one example of a more eco-friendly restaurant trend is the rise of ocean friendly restaurants. These restaurants take proactive steps in order to be considered “ocean friendly”, such as using proper recycling methods and eliminating use of plastic straws, bags, utensils, and styrofoam packaging. The shift to delivery and takeout during the first few weeks of the pandemic made it difficult to cut single-use plastic out completely, but many restaurants kept their establishments sustainable by only offering plastic cutlery upon request. Also, using compostable packaging helps reduce their carbon footprint.
COVID-19 took the world by storm in the blink of an eye, and consequently, restaurants and bars had to quickly adapt to overcome many challenges they were ill-prepared to handle. Nonetheless, the industry continues to weather the storm and define restaurant trends that will stand the test of time.