COVID-19 changed dining forever: Here are 8 changes that are here to stay
Life is different. We know that. Many of us don’t even say “the new normal” anymore. It’s just as “normal” as it can be. A new reality. And with that, come changes, at least on the dining scene, that are here to stay.
Contactless menus and QR codes
Charge up your smartphone before you head out for a meal: Contactless menus, which allow for a few quick taps on your phone, are here to stay. In a Future of Restaurants 2021 report conducted by Wakefield Research, 61% of restaurant operators nationwide plan to continue offering contactless payment options for dine-in customers, while 88% would consider swapping in digital menus for physical menus. Seventy-six percent said they’ll continue with contactless tech this year.
Survival Mode: Restaurant owners discuss the past year
Delivery and takeout
Restaurants that were known as places for fine dining or sitting and hanging at the bar have started offering takeout. Since having to pivot during the early days of the pandemic and changing their menus to accommodate food that could be heated up later, they’re now in a takeout groove — and seeing revenue from these transactions.
Also known as virtual restaurants or digital kitchens, ghost kitchens, which offer takeout and delivery only, were a rising trend before COVID-19 only to be more in demand than ever. It’s a way to use existing facilities to increase revenue.
Luis Aguilera, of Taco Shack in Port Chester, New York, started Señor Spuds, which offers hot dogs and loaded fries, in October 2020 as a way to stay operational and not cut back on staff. It was also, he said, a way to test something simple and use ingredients the restaurant (mostly) already had in inventory. It’s also helped helped manage and reduce waste. “We figured since we didn’t have to focus on dinning-room service, we could focus more on the cooking,” he said.
Recently he’s expanded the menu to include drinks and appetizers and hopes to launch more ghost concepts in the coming weeks. Among them: A gluten free empanada company.
Said Aguilera: “We see this trend as a great way to open more restaurants without the actual cost of construction or additional rent.”
Winter is notoriously tough for restaurants but add in the pandemic and … you know the story. Which is why so many business improvement districts, chambers of commerce and even local food Instagrammers took it upon themselves to offer restaurant promotions this winter and spring as a way to bring attention to struggling restaurants.
Last summer, towns and villages put aside parking spaces, parking lots, and in some cases, whole streets, to allow restaurants to have more room for diners. And while many of those spaces have been removed, the knowledge that that kind of set-up works — and is welcomed by diners — has many municipalities discussing how to bring a semblance of that back for the spring and summer.
“Outdoor dining is here to stay for the long-term future,” summed up Nick Triscari, owner of The Wooden Spoon in New Rochelle, New York. Last year, he scrambled to get his outdoor patio in order; this year he’s added turf to accommodate games like corn hole to give it a more “home style feeling.”
The pandemic has forced restaurant owners to rethink their spaces as well as adjust their thinking when it comes to opening new spots. It’s all part of a trend, according to Nick Mesce, a co-owner of The Taco Project, to build smarter and concentrate on good food that comes out fast in an environment diners are comfortable with.
That means lots of grab-and-go.
The fast casual restaurant model, which had been popular pre-COVID-19 and which is based on offering elevated food at competitive prices in a wait-service-free dining room, is now more important – and more desirable – than ever.
Hand sanitzer, air filtration
Say hello to hand sanitizers at the bar, at your table, by the hostess stand, as well as investments in new filtration systems and industrial cleaning. Clean businesses have always been attractive to consumers but in the age of coronavirus and post-coronavirus, the restaurant industry is under pressure to deliver a “beyond clean” experience.
Jeanne Muchnick covers food and dining. Click here for her most recent articles and follow her latest dining adventures on Instagram @lohud_food or via the lohudfood newsletter.