What Will Restaurants Look Like Post COVID-19?

‘Distance dining’, Cleaning schedule signage, cashless payment only and packaged cutlery are just some of the ideas being thrown about in the media as we move closer to restaurants reopening. It is expected we will operate to a somewhat limited capacity, before being able to get back to some sort of optimal level of trade.

Arguably, the hospitality industry has perhaps been the hardest hit of sectors in the Australian economy. 22nd of March will be etched onto the memory of all café and restaurant owners, when Scott Morrison called for the closure the following day of pubs, clubs and restaurants. Having personally spoken to a number of operators, Monday 23rd March has become known as ‘Refund day’, going through the dismal task of contacting customers or taking calls to cancel deposits and bookings for functions and reservations.

Never Let a Crisis go to Waste

Dining out will most likely never be the same as it was, and this will take some adjustment from both operators and the public. However, as Rahm Emanuel, former Mayor of Chicago once said, ‘You never let a serious crisis go to waste, as you now have an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before’. It has been amazing to see or hear of some of the incredible feats of energy and ingenuity that owners have done to reinvent themselves so as to keep staff employed and stave off total loss of cash flow. No doubt some of these ideas will fade as we move out of restricted trade; but some of them will ultimately become a permanent fixture in the day to day operation of the surviving venues. Let’s take a look at what some of these might be.

Limited Seating and Scattered Bookings

As restaurants reopen with limited seating (at the time of writing this was to be 10 people only in the dining area) some operators are devising ways to maximise sales with such a low head count. One venue in Brisbane is doing an early and a late seating in the evening, promoting it as a chance to come along with nine of your best friends for a rare opportunity to have the restaurant at your personal disposal. They are operating on a fixed menu which is designed to maximise the average spend, and the pricing includes alcohol; but it’s all about the pitch. Given this venue has been doing takeaway only, the extra service wages shouldn’t have a huge impact on costs.

Food Safety vs Food Sustainability

Yes it has been luxurious to know the name of the cow, how it came from a loving farmer who played Adele across the paddock to his herd for the first hour of each morning, and ensured they weren’t reared with the stress that less fortunate cows dealt with. (Ok I’m exaggerating we all know cows prefer Andre Rieu’s violin performances). Seriously though, it can be beneficial to know a little bit about the background of what goes on your plate; but could we have been taking it just a little bit too far? I’m sure there will continue to be an interest in sustainable farming and produce but after what we have been through, there is a chance the average diner is going to take more interest in knowing the safety standards and procedures in place as he or she is about to choose off the menu.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Already as we move towards post Coronavirus the authorities are laying down what the minimum standards need to be for reopening. This includes such guidelines as sanitising menus after each use, the removal of condiments, and eradication of self-serve or buffet style dining.
However, the smart operators will go well beyond this to convince their patrons that dining in their restaurant is much safer than the one across the road. Making customers aware that staff have had extra levels of food hygiene and handling training, promoting suppliers who have systems in place that reduce human contact of goods to the restaurant, and introducing protocols to ensure the health of kitchen staff is assessed before the start of a shift.

Takeaway Is The New Norm

There had already been a growing trend towards restaurant quality meals being delivered to the home as we have watched the phenomenal growth of Uber Eats and Deliveroo. At the start of lockdown, turnover for these platforms increased significantly as we took the approach of, “Well, if I can’t dine in at my favourite restaurant, I’ll do the next best thing and get it delivered.” Interestingly, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, some businesses thought there might be a demand for some variation on the prepared meal delivery model.

Innovative Takeaway Ideas

Junzi Restaurant in New York makes available a three-course meal, ingredients boxed up and delivered to you or contactless pick-up. Ok nothing new there, but then on Friday or Saturday night the Chef will live-stream via Instagram an introduction, and the plating instructions. Helps of course if the Chef is a flamboyant kind of person; but you see how it is another way to get your product out there and to continue to engage with your people.


The Post-COVID Restaurant Design

Expect to see new restaurants evolve with different layouts and floor-plans lined with hand sanitiser stations. The delivery platforms had already dictated in some cases smaller dining areas and the evolution of ‘dark kitchens’. We will continue to want to eat out; but just as much we will be happy to have the restaurant product come into our own home.

For this to happen, what has previously been the sole territory of diners in the restaurant is a space that can now be best described as a ‘delivery command centre.’ Once busy tables have made way for scooter riders to come in and pick up without interfering with the dining experience of other patrons. Ideally, a staff member is solely dedicated to taking phone orders, managing apps and emails and co-ordinating the orders as they leave the kitchen.

How Many Restaurants are Expected to Survive?

Predictions are that somewhere between 10 to 20% of restaurants won’t see the other side of the pandemic. Many that do return will have taken a major blow which will see them struggle for ongoing survival in a recessionary economy. There will be opportunities; those that are prepared to adapt will take advantage of the vacuum created by those who have fallen. The hospitality industry will continue to be a significant contributor to our economy and of course a major employer, we just need to support the good operators. Enable our hard working hospo’s to continue providing a source of entertainment, indulgence and social engagement for the public. A public who is also unsure of how life is going to look from hereon in.