Running a restaurant, cafe or bar has never been as challenging than it was in 2020. Wherever in the world your restaurant is based, there will have been some obstacles put in the way of usual operations in the name of keeping the pandemic at bay. It’s undeniable that in many countries the hospitality industry bore the brunt of the national and local measures introduced to reduce the spread of the virus.
We’ve all risen to these challenges and learnt a lot along the way. Let’s take a closer look at some of the lessons the pandemic has taught us and how we can use these to become stronger and safer in the future.
Challenge after challenge thrown at the industry
Each nation’s governments dealt with the pandemic slightly differently. It might be that you were told that all your patrons must leave your premises way earlier than they would normally head home. Perhaps you were unable to sell alcohol, or insist a meal is served alongside it. Maybe you were told to close all together for months on end with varying levels of financial help to pay staff and bills in the meantime.
We’ve all had to deal with different COVID-related challenges and each has thrown up its own problems and solutions. However, there have been some pretty universal measures implemented by most restaurants, mostly pertaining to keeping a distance, limiting contact and improving hygiene levels.
Looking back on the crisis, there are definitely lessons we have all learned…
To make more use of outside space
Who knew that you could fit a third more diners for every sitting when you make the very most of your outside space? Covid restrictions in many countries have made it much easier for people to meet and socialise outdoors than indoors, and this also goes for eating out.
In good weather, it’s a given that people will willingly, or even keenly, sit out in the sun on a beautiful terrace and dine outdoors. However, in colder months it’s never been quite so attractive. However, it only takes some powerful heating, some blankets and perhaps a canopy or marquee (together with some twinkly lights?) to create an appealing winter wonderland that’s actually usable all year round, pandemic or no pandemic.
That consumers value autonomy over the their dining experiences
This one is a real game changer for those of us running restaurants. Many diners have, for the first time, become used to using automated menus when ordering their food. Consumers of all ages and demographic backgrounds have become familiar with using QR codes and ordering at their table using apps and backendless tools. They love that these enable them to have complete control over when they order, recorder and even ask for the bill.
This is the kind of seismic change in consumer behaviour that will remain in place when Coronavirus is a distant memory, simply because people prefer ordering food this way.
That their staff can be better utilised
As consumers started to get used to at-table ordering apps and interactive restaurant menus on tables and phones, staff were liberated from some of their usual duties. Waiting staff were no longer tied to their allotted tables, desperately trying to establish whether the group at table six has finished looking at the menu and is ready to order, for example.
These staff members are now empowered to help out where it’s needed most, bolstering the entire customer service effort. When repeat visits to each table are no longer needed, waiting staff can focus their attention on maintaining standards in other areas of operation, such as managing processes, providing warm and personal front-of-house service and making sure people get their food quickly and exactly how they order it.
That nothing beats personal service
This takes us neatly to the next point. Despite all the super-positive breakthroughs in technology that have enhanced consumers’ experiences when dining out, they still value personal service. This is why it’s so important that tools such as interactive restaurant ordering and virtual queues don’t replace your staff. Instead, they should enhance your customer service and empower your workers.
To invest in tech that makes life easier
Technology came to our rescue in 2020. The tools that have quickly been designed and rolled out across restaurants around the globe will now have a place in our businesses in the future.
This is a firm positive to have come out of 2020. Restaurateurs now know that technology saves them money and improved service, and consumers have learned that technology can help them enjoy their dining out experience.
Instead of standing in line for hours to get into the latest restaurant opening in New York, queues have been taken online. Customers can now wait wherever they like, instead of gathering on streets outside an eatery.
Diners in London are enjoying how easy it is to order takeaways, with regular updates on whether their food is being prepared and whether it’s on its way. Customers eating out in Tel Aviv are embracing on-table ordering tools that allow them to look at menus and order in their own time. They no longer want to wait around for their waiter and can even add extra drinks or repeat orders through their phones without getting a waiter’s attention.
To respect staff illness and encourage them to stay at home
Anyone running any kind of business with employees has a new-found respect for the value of sick leave. After years of workers coming into work when they were unwell, those days are, hopefully, gone for good.
Too many workplaces created a culture where employees felt pressure to turn up even when they were obviously contagious with a cold or flu. Most of us have now learned to value good health and have become more attuned to our bodies and the risk of illness. This is expected to result in long-term changes in attitudes towards sickness and, in particular, the value of staying at home when you are likely to pass your illness onto others.
Hygiene can improve post-COVID
Anyone running a restaurant will have learned a whole lot about hygiene, health and safety during 2020. This enhanced knowledge will go a long way in boosting hygiene standards in general throughout the industry.
Many of us have been asking why hand-washing wasn’t always such a big part of the service industry. We can’t imagine ever going back to a time when hand sanitizer isn’t available and where staff don’t wash their hands regularly throughout the service, for 20 seconds at a time.
COVID has taught us a lot about self-preservation and about preserving our livelihoods and businesses. It’s also taught consumers about how much they value the freedom to go and eat out when they wish and many have realised how important it is to use local businesses and spend money with the restaurants that you want to see survive.
The connection between consumer behaviour and a restaurant’s survival has finally been made for consumers. This should result in a seriously strong period of business as soon as this COVID nightmare is truly behind us.