The impact of COVID-19 and social distancing measures have irrevocably changed customer behaviour, forcing many operational changes to the restaurant industry that are likely to remain a permanent feature in our day-to-day lives. Restaurants have had to re-think their business, marketing and digital strategies and have become a lot more flexible and diverse as a result.
According to data provided by Statista, seated diners numbers in UK restaurants has declined by 36.14%:
Restaurants have risen to the challenge
However, it’s been encouraging to see so many restaurants rising to the challenge and show off some wonderful creativity, imagination and resilience. The introduction of more ‘al fresco’ dining spaces as well as an abundance of take-away and home-delivery options are examples of this.
Diners welcome the opportunity to eat out in the fresh air and whilst the UK may not quite offer the warmer Mediterranean temperatures at the moment, many restaurants offer snuggly blankets or heating to provide that extra bit of comfort whilst inside areas have been redesigned.
New Health and Safety regulations are here to stay
Health and safety are undoubtedly going to have a long term impact if only to reassure consumers that the restaurant they’re visiting is doing everything it can to operate a clean and safe environment for them to dine in.
The Government’s online guidance highlights that whilst it’s deemed highly unlikely that COVID-19 is transmitted through food, for those involved in the processing, retailing and service of food or food packaging, good hygiene practice of all staff is strongly recommended.
Routine procedures such as staff frequently washing their hands with soap and water before and after handling food, dirty items, cutlery, dishes and other items are unlikely to stop. Hygiene stations with gel dispensers for customers are now common place and one that diners welcome. They are therefore likely to remain a permanent feature.
Contactless payments and ordering via apps – the way to go
Self-ordering automation is already fully embraced in the majority of restaurants and therefore further automation within the industry is no longer just something for the movies. Distancing yourself from direct contact with employees and payment devices has become the new normal. Diners have become accustomed to ordering through smartphone apps as well as using QR-codes. Orders are sent through to staff who will prepare the requests accordingly either for serving to the tables or for their drivers when home-delivery options are chosen.
It’s perhaps not surprising that the pandemic has seen a massive rise in the use of food delivery apps. Home delivery apps have exploded during COVID-19 and many restaurants made the smart move of linking in with home delivery sites such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats. However, the jury is out yet on whether this trend will be sustainable in the longer term.
Development of new technology
The speed at which the use of apps has been taken up by the public is a clear example of how quickly new technology can be embraced by restaurants if they increase efficiency. Further development of AI and the use of robots to carry out multiple tasks such as washing utensils, keeping the kitchen and dining area clean are opportunities that are no longer beyond our imagination as is outlined by the article: https://rezku.com/blog/dont-get-blindsided
The need for human contact
However, one thing that has become glaringly apparent during these periods of lockdown is the need for human contact. The surge in those coping with loneliness and mental health problems as a direct result of restricted social contact with loved ones and friends, will no doubt challenge the increase of AI and the use of robots in places such as restaurants.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly left a lasting impact on the restaurant industry and it must remain agile if it is to survive and thrive. Focusing on cleanliness and delivering a reliable, safe dining experience will be one of the key factors to keep customers coming back long after the pandemic is over.