Reflecting on 2020 and Looking Ahead to 2021
As we say goodbye (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!) to 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we know that the restaurant and hospitality industry will continue to face challenges, at least for the first few months of 2021. Looking towards Quarter 2 as vaccines are rolled out across the country and warmer temperatures allow for pleasant outdoor dining, we are hopeful that restaurants will see a surge in on-premise dining as consumers take advantage of the ability to dine out. Additionally, after the first quarter, there may be more optimism on the catering side of off-premise sales as at least some office workers return to their communal places of work. Catering menus may necessitate individually boxed or plated items instead of the traditional shared or large platter catering menu options as there is uneasiness concerning health and safety. If you haven’t adjusted your catering menus to include individual plates, boxes, or meals, now would be a great time to do so and update them across all ordering platforms.
We’ve learned a lot in the industry over the last year, including turning/reacting and adapting throughout ever-changing circumstances. Although some changes may be temporary, there is no doubt that many industry trends will be here for the long run.
- A focus on food safety, cleanliness, and sanitation will be important to guests and potential guests into the new year and beyond. It will continue to be critical that you are not only practicing elevated sanitation procedures but that you are showing your guests precisely what your team is doing to ensure their safety. A great way to do this is to include photos and videos on your social media channels highlighting cleanliness and sanitation and the measures you’ve taken to make it easy for guests to ensure their safety, for example, sanitizing or dining room handwashing stations.
- Contactless ordering and pickup will continue to grow and become a competitive advantage. Now’s the time to make sure your online ordering platform is user-friendly and is programmed correctly to ensure an excellent guest experience.
- Does it prompt for upsells: sides, drinks, desserts?
- Does it ask if the guest needs utensils?
- Are menu items described correctly and easy to modify (photos are a bonus)?
- Takeout and off-premise dining will continue to be popular with guests seeking menu items that travel well and are appropriately packaged along with value or perceived value, all being points of differentiation.
- Take a hard look at your menu items and if they need to be modified for takeout
- Make sure your packaging holds items well and that each container is the appropriate size for the item it’s intended for
- Give your guests as close to the same experience for takeout as they experience with in-house dining. Appropriate sauces, condiments, and “freebies” (such as complimentary bread) should all be included with takeout orders
One of the many challenges during this time has been to continue to provide great service with the many restrictions we have to follow while also supporting our teams and the challenges they face and, of course, fighting the labor dollar battle that never gets easier. We all know high turnover is not only costly from a training standpoint, but it also affects your guest experience and the potential they will return. Supporting your team, especially during these challenging times, will most certainly improve retention and reduce the headache of hiring and training new team members. As we look to 2021, the prediction is that forward-thinking organizations will look for ways to broaden team member empowerment, recognition, and contribution to improving not only guest experience but team member experience (along with business reputation and bottom-line profits). One thing we may take away from this experience is that the guest is not ALWAYS right…sometimes, we need to step up and support our team because it’s the right thing to do! As operators, ensure you’re checking in with your team regularly to understand how you can best support their work, goals, and even their life outside of work.
As we look to spring and summer, and our communities emerge from hibernation, operators should consider ways to bring entertainment value to their guest experience. We will all be thrilled once we can go out, enjoy a great meal and service and feel a sense of ease while dining, but there will be even more enthusiasm for communal experiences and entertainment once we can safely enjoy these types of events paired with great food and drinks. Consider planning for live music, live sporting events, trivia, or other games and holidays to deliver the entertainment your guests will likely be craving.
Lastly, if you will be re-opening (or opening a new) a location in 2021, consider how you can take this opportunity to retrain your team, implement systems to improve guest experience, improve and modernize your menu offerings. Build anticipation through marketing as you lead up to your re-opening. Sometimes, when you take a step back and regroup, it allows you to assess what needs to be done to put your business on the path towards success.
After months of adhering to only takeout and delivery mandates, restaurants in nearly all 50 states are now allowed to offer dine-in service as long as they comply with the regulations outlined by their local government. Georgia was the first state to reopen its dining rooms in late April, while Massachusetts just reintroduced indoor dining on June 22.
Of course, it’s not business, as usual, any longer. The dine-in options come with restrictions, so owners must consult with their local health agencies for guidelines. Generally, however, you will come across rules like these:
- Required cloth-facial coverings for staff and encourage patrons to wear these as well
- Limit the number of people per party and per table
- Reduce overall guest occupancy in the establishment
- Establish 6-feet distance between tables and workstations
- Sanitize dining tables and seats after each sitting
- Provide single-use menus, condiments, and disposable or pre-rolled silverware
- Prioritize outdoor seating
- Implement policies and procedures training for employee and guest safety
- Close-off self-service stations (salad bars, salsa bars, fountain drink area, etc.)
- Establish special hours for high-risk patrons
- Encourage reservations if patrons would like to dine-in
- Install barriers like sneeze guards and partitions in areas where social distancing is hard to maintain
- Provide personal protective equipment for your employees
- Remove board games, books, pool tables, or other shared entertainment items
- Provide contactless payment options for guests
- Implement online ordering of meals ahead of time for those looking to dine-in
The importance of following your local government’s dine-in guidelines cannot be understated. You won’t be hard-pressed to find various restaurants across the country suddenly close their doors (after only reopening dine-in service for a few weeks) due to employees or individuals testing positive for COVID-19. In fact, in Miami, police now can shut down a business on the spot for violating capacity restrictions. Save yourself time and headaches and follow safety guidelines!
Pro tip: If your establishment serves alcohol, you might find this resource handy from the National Restaurant Association on state alcohol delivery laws, including off-premise alcohol sales updated on June 23, 2020.
If you need a review of your COVID training and dine-in environment, please reach out to Synergy. We also offer remote consulting options.
Restaurant Reopening: Alleviating Fear
After a nearly two-month nationwide lockdown, the US economy is finally starting to open up. As of today, all 50 states are at least partially open. If you stepped outside this recent Memorial Day weekend or watched internet footage of celebrations, you would think that people forgot that a pandemic even exists–throngs gathered in public places, many ignoring social distancing and facial covering guidelines. The fact of the matter is, no matter how eager people are for things to get back to normal, things are still not normal. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States and according to the World Health Organization Program Director Dr. Mark Ryan, “We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up.”
Let’s take a look at some timely statistics to get a better understanding of where things stand. Surveys from McKinsey & Company reveal that 80 percent of American consumers who have not yet returned to out-of-home activities are “are largely waiting for medical authorities to voice their approval, safety measures to be put in place, and a vaccine to be developed.” Datassential reports that 57 percent of people are more concerned about a public-health crisis over 43 percent who are more concerned about an economic crisis.
Additionally, consumer confidence is lower than it was in early March as shown from a recent study from Morning Consult. Further, businesses have strict safety mandates to follow in each state and county where they operate. Complying with proper health protocols is top of mind for consumers and businesses alike. This coupled with the fact that many are feeling a negative financial impact from COVID proves that businesses, particularly restaurants, need to establish real value and differentiate themselves from the competition.
It’s not just the consumers–workers are fearful, too. A survey of 1,000 American workers conducted by PwC illuminated many concerns about returning to work. 56 percent stated they would prefer that their employers provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks. 51 percent wanted customers to be required to follow safety and hygiene practices.
Here’s what restaurant owners need to do to assuage the valid concerns that both their employes and guests have during this crisis:
- Follow mandates as outlined by your local and state governments: this may vary among states but would usually include reducing dine-in capacity, strict sanitation protocols, following social distancing (for ever one in the establishment), establish a maximum amount of guests per table, and restrictions on bar service.
- PPE for your employees. Invest in personal protective equipment for your employees. This includes facial coverings, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, and sneeze guards.
- Establish work guidelines. Create a plan for how to deal with employees who feel they may have contracted COVID, or whether or not they have concerns about their personal safety. Share these guidelines with employees so they understand you have procedures in place to handle their concerns.
- Commitment of Safety: post on your website a statement on how you are following guidelines that ensure the safety of both patrons and employees. Make it clear that their health if your priority.
- Use social media. Utilize social media to illustrate that your restaurant following proper safety guidelines and procedures. Remind them that you are still offering multiple options for ordering–curbside pickup, takeout, contact-less delivery and drive-thru.
New Normal for Restaurants?
With strict stay-at-home orders in effect and limited businesses open, carry out, and delivery are the only options permitted to foodservice operations. Now, as states begin to open their economy, restaurant owners are looking for ways to create a safe environment for their guests while adhering to recommendations by state and federal guidelines. There are many factors restaurants want to consider before reopening, including cleanliness and sanitation, to-go and delivery, social distancing, and updated menu options.
What we expect to see in the coming months:
Face coverings and gloves: All restaurant staff may be required to wear some type of face mask including, staff in the back of the house and the front of the house. All kitchen workers would be required to wear disposable gloves. Whether or not guests will have to wear one remains in question. Currently, San Francisco’s mayor has ordered restaurants to turn away customers who aren’t wearing a face covering.
Sneeze guards: Not only for use at buffet stations, sneeze guards, or acrylic barriers may also be seen at the checkout stand as an extra measure of precaution. Plexiglass situated between diners may not be too far-fetched, either.
Contactless payments: Say goodbye to cash (for now) and say hello to more contact-free payment options. This includes accepting payments by phone, online, or through a mobile app.
UV light: Standard cleaning procedures will be more stringent. Restaurant owners may invest in UV sterilizing cabinets for kitchen knives and other UV light technology to provide increased sanitation throughout the restaurant.
Limited occupancy: With the term “social distancing” now ingrained in all our minds, it will come as no surprise that restaurants will limit the number of people that enter at a time. States like Tennessee are mandating a restriction of 50% occupancy rate, and Texas is preparing to reopen restaurants at 25% capacity.
No physical menus: Laminated menus will no longer be available and will instead be replaced with single-use, disposable, paper menus to mitigate the spread of germs.
Updated menu options: Do not expect dine-in traffic to increase—customers will continue to expect to have take-out options that cater to their needs. Restaurants will need to update their menus options to include family-style meals.
Denying service: Guests may notice signage stating that they may not enter if they have a fever or feel ill. Temperature checks of guests may become standard practice.
The fact is, the outside world is going to look and feel a lot different than it did before, particularly at restaurants. If you would like more information on reopening your restaurant, please see our COVID-19 resources. Please note that Synergy is available for remote support at discounted rates during this time.