COVID-19 has affected the lives of everyone, and caused countless businesses to shut down. Perhaps one of the most affected industries is that of the food industry. In general, takeaways have been doing just fine throughout COVID. The pandemic, however, will be of particular concern to small dine-in restaurants, who have been forced to remain closed for the majority of 2020. This begs the question; when will restaurants re-open, and what will they look like in a post-COVID world?
Travel and Leisure estimates that somewhere in excess of 100,000 restaurants have closed "either permanently or long-term". This figure represents the catastrophic affect this global pandemic is having on an already struggling industry. There is no clear sign of when a vaccine might be on the horizon, and thus restaurants owners are left to sit on their hands and await government permission to continue living their lives. This might not have been such an enormous blow had we not seen so many nations opting to re-open restaurants before abruptly re-entering lockdowns again. This has ultimately caused many restaurants to purchase in large quantities of stock which they can no longer trade with and will surely expire before they have a chance to re-open... A large financial blow indeed.
Post-COVID Dining Experiences
So what will the restaurant industry look like when we re-open, and what can diners expect? First of all, any re-opening will be a slow process, with many restaurants possibly never opening their doors again. We can look to expect a stronger emphasis on hygiene in these restaurants, perhaps even a continuation of hand sanitizers and token face masks; a nod to their social responsibility and a far stretch from the reality we once knew. Yet still, the demand for in-person dining remains strong. Customers will come, albeit fewer at first, to visit their favourite establishments. Undoubtedly social distancing will prevail, and continue to unironically mock us as it forces us to engage in very unsocial distancing. It's simply a fact that customer expectations have changed in light of this pandemic. As per usual, Twitter will act as a platform where outraged customers can rant about restaurants failing to meet their personal opinion of what constitutes acceptable hygiene measures.
Is There Anything Positive?
It's not all doom and gloom for the restaurant industry though. Upon re-opening, many of their competitors may have been forced out of business. So in a slight, but surely grim, twist of events, some restaurants may actually benefit from being one of the few dine-in restaurant left in their vicinity. Aside from these cynical thoughts, restaurant owners may find solace in the fact that they may be among the first "social activities" to return once normality resumes and governments have been making a conscious effort to ensure that restaurants continue trading. Losing restaurants could be devastating for local economies and rural villages.
Nonetheless, customers will continue to expect diamonds from restaurants; even in areas where it's impossible for them to succeed. Restaurants must not only worry about running their business going forward, but also worry about creating a "safe space" for their customers. This isn't an impossible ask, but it's going to be very difficult for small business owners to keep up with major franchises in this area. Social distancing expectations will mean less dine-in tables available, which will in turn decrease income of restaurants. Not only this, but many customers will turn their nose up at re-usable menus. Restaurant owners will need to worry about maintaining a high quality digital menu, and also keeping delivery options open, because many customers will no longer feel safe going into a restaurant, even after the virus has been eradicated.
I don't mean to sound cynical. It's a very difficult situation for restaurant owners, but it's an industry which has been through difficulty in the past. The one thing which will continue to prevail in the wake of this lockdown is the high demand for a good quality dining experience, which will ensure that restaurant ownership remains a competitive and profitable endeavour.
Papershop is an Irish startup founded in Dublin & digitizing dining experiences across the world.