5 dining trends for a post-COVID world

Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management projects five dining-out trends affecting restaurants, bars and consumers that are emerging in a post-pandemic world. The trends were presented by Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School.
“The abruptness of COVID-19 has caused many of us in the food-and-beverage industry to stop in our tracks and pause for a minute,” said Cheng. “At first, we thought it was a temporary pause on life as we know it, on the way we socialize outside our home with friends and family over drinks and dinner. We thought that something as simple as after-work drinks or weekend get-togethers would be put on pause for a couple weeks. But as the layoffs and furloughs started mounting in the hospitality industry, we began to realize this didn’t resemble anything normal.”

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“At the same time, restaurants and bars were trying to determine their next move,” Cheng continued. “Some were hesitant and closed initially, while others started expanding their services to include deliveries, take-outs, mini-groceries and meal kits. As the weeks became months, it was evident that new health and safety protocols were going to be implemented when the economy reopened, and there was a new need to address and allay consumers fears over dining out.”

Here are the trends the school is predicting:

1. Transparency and Communication

There will be a hyper-awareness of safety and sanitation on the part of consumers in the post-pandemic world. The key will be to actively demonstrate adaptation to new safety and sanitation protocols and simultaneously communicate this to customers at all times. Owners and managers will need to ensure that staff teams feel safe returning to work, and customers feel safe frequenting an establishment. 

Cleaning should be highly visible at all times, and protocols should be clearly posted on the website and within a place of business for all to see. “Invite social media influencers to do a vlog of your new safety and sanitation protocols in your restaurant,” said Cheng. “Better yet, invite your local municipal officials to tour your establishment unannounced.”

2. Innovation and Creativity

Many restaurants and bars have introduced service extensions such as delivery and take-out options as well as pop-up grocery stores, and there is no reason for that to stop once businesses reopen. In fact, research shows that these new off-premises eating habits have been widely adopted by consumers with the majority of Americans saying they will likely continue to order a family meal bundle, subscribe to a regular meal kit service, order restaurant food for delivery, purchase alcoholic beverages for delivery using an online service (where legal) and shop for groceries using an online app. 

3. Contactless Technology and Virtual Presence

Contactless ordering, payment and pickup will continue on in the foreseeable future as consumers continue to practice social distancing. From virtual happy hours to virtual team meetings, many restaurants and bars have resorted to establishing virtual tip jars to help garner some relief for their employees during this time. 

The New York City Wine & Food Festival launched “At Home” virtual cooking with NYCWFF chefs to benefit the NYCWFF Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, and numerous cities have launched virtual restaurant weeks to boost delivery and takeout support of local businesses. The use of advanced analytics and Internet of Things technology will also reveal more data about consumers, allowing restaurants to tailor marketing strategies and offerings, targeting different segments of the business day and different demographics. Robotics and labor automation will become commonplace in restaurants as the need to adhere to safe distances and contactless capabilities continues.

4. A Collaborative Community

The restaurant and bar community is tight-knit. Many restaurant and bar owners have been sharing playbooks with one another. From launching relief funds within days of closure to sharing best practices for packaging and deliveries, many have banded together to help each other out. Some have even recommended their own laid-off or furloughed employees to others who needed help setting up their technology to take online orders or increase their social media presence. 

Others have come together to collaborate on special events, such as a recent Cinco de Mayo collaboration between Temple Street Eatery of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Taquiza Tacos of Miami Beach, Fla. As more and more cities set reopening dates, these businesses have collaborated together on drafting reopening guidelines and providing feedback to local authorities on what works and what doesn’t. This collaborative bond that is created today will continue on in various neighborhood restaurant and bar communities.

5. Reset 

This is a chance for a reset in the restaurant and bar industry. When a disruption of this magnitude hits an industry, there likely will be many closures, with some estimating that one in five restaurants won’t reopen. Sharing menus and communal tables may very well disappear and some have questioned the longevity of the buffet, but with proper safeguards and elimination of self-service options while maintaining ample choices, these may be modified to survive in the future. The physical lay-out of the restaurant will have to be redesigned to emphasize more social distancing and outdoor dining with fresh air could be the norm along with take-outs and deliveries. This could reduce the physical footprint needed by each restaurant or bar, and the eating area could become a shared space like a food hall. 

A larger, more ambitious outcome could be a total reset of wages and rents in this industry. This will include a fight for fair wages, reliable benefits and workplace democracy for all who are involved in the food chain, from the field to the table. The existing business model for restaurants and bars will have to be closely scrutinized because many will not be able to afford to pay their leases in the current conditions with a reduced seating capacity and social distancing requirements.
“While these are signs that we see today, the next 12 months will give us better clarity of the way forward,” Cheng said. “Whether or not we can secure herd immunity or provide a vaccine for everyone will determine if we can return to dining and drinking the way we’ve been accustomed to. We may not, however, want to give up some of these new learned behaviors.”