While we are still deep in the trenches of Covid-19, it feels almost impossible to think about what will happen when it finally comes to an end. The idea of wearing masks and gloves, working from home, and social distancing seem to be the new norm. And although there is a vague timeline of when the country will completely reopen again, the landscape, especially in the foodservice industry, will be very different from what most of us are familiar with.
For one thing, when we head back to our favorite restaurants for in house dining, we may see foodservice workers wearing gloves and masks. Sanitary wipes and hand gel might replace salt and pepper shakers. Self service buffets could have an attendant serving diners. We may also see more contactless payment methods being implemented. But the largest difference might be a lowering of capacity. Less tables, situated further apart from each other would be an extension of some sort of social distancing. Undoubtedly, restaurant owners and workers would burden the brunt of this particular change.
However, there are some in the foodservice industry which have been less affected by Covid-19. They are the pizza franchises. For years, pizza has been a regular staple in the takeout and delivery segmentation. When shelter in place came into effect, it was only natural for consumers to think of pizza as a first choice. What’s more, this industry has been improving their packaging and delivery methods for years. So customers know what to expect when the food arrives at their doorsteps.
On the other hand, table restaurants have seen a dramatic drop in business. The National Foodservice Association projects that nearly 11 percent of restaurants will close by the end of April. So while dining-in is impossible right now, many restaurants have adapted to the current situation by offering takeout and adjusting their menus. In fact, with slimmed down staffing, some establishments are offering meal kits where we can cook their signature dishes with all the necessary ingredients and instructions provided. Not only can we attempt to replicate our favorite dish at home, restaurants can continue operating with less staff.
However, there is one segment of the foodservice industry which was growing before Covid-19 but has almost come to a complete halt since then. Ghost restaurants, which operate with mainly a kitchen and delivery service, don’t need to worry about filling tables. But because they are located primarily in business districts to service customers ordering lunch while at work, they have taken a huge hit as well. While their client base continues to work from home, their kitchens will need to wait it out. There is a sense, though, that ghost restaurants may see a surge in residential areas if businesses continue to allow a portion of their employees to work from home even after all this is over.
While it’s difficult to foresee the future landscape of the foodservice industry at this stage, there is still quite a bit of optimism within the community. Although restaurants may be closing now, there are those who see beyond the pandemic to find opportunity. New investors will see value in taking up and redeveloping shuttered foodservice businesses. And we can’t forget the power of brand loyalty and reputation. Popular restaurants which are now closed will still have a loyal following when they open again, and those which have adapted well during this crisis will most likely maintain their new customers.