Will Restaurants Recover in 2021?
A year ago, COVID-19 changed the restaurant industry. Even if America follows its projected timeline for mass vaccinations, we’re still unlikely to fully “return to normal” until well into the summer and fall. As recovery restarts, it may not be the easy journey that some industry professionals are hoping to see.
Last year, the closest we got to recovery was reintegration of dine-in services, but of course we as a society weren’t adequately prepared at that point in the summer. Thus restaurants closed again—then reopened, then closed, and so on and so forth. Clearly short-term solutions don’t cut it anymore.
Between labor expenses, difficulty enticing workers to come back if they’re making more on unemployment, and a reduction in customer loyalty given the range of options they have when ordering online, restaurants are still struggling. As the coronavirus pandemic worsens again thanks to outbreaks originating from winter vacations and Superbowl Sunday, business owners are understandably concerned how this will affect the future of restaurant recovery.
People still deal with low income and the continued absence of adequate stimulus from the government. They don’t have as much disposable income to give to businesses they would otherwise love to support.
Recovery is likely to remain uneven as states operate under different precautionary mandates and reopening strategies. In the long run, however, the industry overwhelmingly feels positively about life after COVID-19. After all, a year and a half stuck primarily in their houses is a great incentive to get people out and about once it’s safe. As it is, 67% of diners are itching for a chance to have an on-premise meal again.
A Brighter Future
It’s not all bad news. As restaurants changed their habits this past year to prioritize safe and sanitary practices, they’ve gotten used to adapting to new changes and built some level of flexibility into operations. As we face down the remaining challenges and struggle toward restaurant recovery, long-term growth will rely on the skills we’ve cultivated through hardship.
What should your restaurant prioritize moving forward?
Long-Term Restaurant Recovery
You’ll need to lean on your existing systems to succeed, but it’s equally important to develop new strategies to propel you into a post-COVID-19 world. That means optimizing your efficiency and increasing demand to build a smarter future.
Streamline the menu. Create ones specialized for travel to make delivery services better, introduce seasonal options that use farm-fresh ingredients or promote any other menu that caters to your customer base’s preferences.
Reduce labor expenses via self-service options like Kiosks.
Sell cocktails off-premises. Since last year’s closures, restaurants realized the significance of their alcohol sales relative to overall profit. States then relaxed some of their regulations to temporarily permit cocktail delivery; this has been a massive hit with guests.
Create subscriptions and meal kits to sell overstocked ingredients that customers may have trouble finding on grocery shelves.
What was once unexpected has now become commonplace, and customers crave the ease and convenience of these services. Appeal to those Gen Z and Millennial customers who thrive on digitization. Use apps, mobile menus and QR codes to encourage contactless service both on- and off-premises. This will save you a lot of trouble trying to shift back to primarily in-person services in 2021.