By Phil Bensinger
Many restaurants in major business centers across the United States have closed or modified their hours dramatically during the pandemic. It remains unclear what the future holds for the industry as we head into the fall. Starting this month office workers will start returning to the office from two to four days a week. Many of them have been stuck at home for more than a year and are looking forward to human interaction. Before the pandemic there was a tendency by many people to maximize the efficiency of their lunch break by taking a fast lunch or in some cases bringing their lunch to work.
Now a lunch with co-workers offers the opportunity to interact leisurely at a sit-down lunch and in many cases make presentations to clients. It becomes something to look forward to rather than something to dread.
Even though the lunch break may become more popular, requirement for social distancing and mask wearing will likely continue for some time due to the likely continuation of variants of the Coronavirus. Another change that is almost sure to be permanent is digital ordering as it was already growing prior to the pandemic and has seen a dramatic increase over the past year. Indeed digital ordering helps collect valuable customer preference information which can translate into the development of new more profitable menu items and more efficient staffing. This information is very valuable because labor and food costs are typically two of the highest expense items on a restaurant profit and loss statement. The labor cost has been additionally burdened by the $15.00 an hour average pay and the fact that many have left the industry during the pandemic. Some restaurants have even resorted to providing signing bonuses for new hires.
Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) like Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Chick- fil-A have embraced the pandemic safety requirements by designing, engineering and implementing new operational procedures which both increase the speed of service and enhance the customer dining experience. This proactive approach will, in my opinion, result in a positive result for both customers and owners in the long run.
Small independent restaurants will need to innovate new safety procedures into all aspects of their operations and communicate these changes with their customer base via email and social media. I believe this can be accomplished in a positive and fun way so that the dining experience for American workers remains a productive, fun and valuable part of everyday life.