For the better part of the last year, most restaurants have had to work only on deliveries, rely on outdoor seating, or (at best) ensure some level of distancing for their indoor seating. Many have (temporarily or completely) shut down — the price to pay for a ravaging pandemic.
With the meteoric rise of COVID-19 vaccines, however, we may be starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, we should be careful and avoid easing lockdowns too quickly (we’ve seen just how quickly that can lead to disaster) — but with enough vaccines, a careful reopening may just usher in the return of our favorite restaurants. Here’s what to look for.
More takeaway and deliveries
It’s probably safe to say that 2020 was the worst year in history for restaurants in the US (and in most parts of the world). The ones that did survive often did so with the aid of delivery. With so many delivery companies becoming popular, takeaway and deliveries were already commonplace — but with restaurants shut down, they’ve boomed.
Restaurants that emphasized a vibe or the eat-out experience itself had the most to suffer, while those that quickly pivoted to pickup and delivery thrived. As a result, many restaurants adjusted their menu and staffing to the requirements, and there’s a good chance this will be long-term or permanent change.
With more people than ever working from home, takeaways may slow down a bit, but it’s unlikely that they will return to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, we may also see more streamlined menus, and changes to menus are likely also here to stay.
A slow return
But even with rising demand for takeaway, it’s clear that those restaurant chairs will be filling up once restrictions are eased. But it may not happen all at once.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, and it will take time to recover. In addition to the business that have gone under, even those that survived will have to face increased distrust from some consumers.
“There’s been a lot of damage done to restaurants. Not just financially, but also from a public standpoint,” said said Edward Lee, chef, restaurateur and co-founder of the philanthropic The Lee Initiative, to Huff Post. “There was a lot of restaurant-bashing that was being done during the pandemic, and a lot of people created this unfair narrative where restaurants were reopening simply out of profit, and that just wasn’t the case.”
It will take a time for people to get used to going out again, but this will probably happen over the next few months.
More emphasis on cleanliness
When consumers will be returning to restaurants, there’s a good chance they’ll pay more attention to how clean everything is. Presumably, there will be more emphasis on the restaurant being thoroughly clean, and this may prove to be a challenge for some.
With all the extra attention on washing and cleaning over the past year, clients may prioritize neat restaurants over eclectic ones.
More outdoor dining, less indoor, and more spaced tables
It’s been strange socially distancing for more than a year — but it’s not all bad. Not rubbing shoulders with your table neighbors is pretty pleasant feeling, and many have taken a liking to new, socially distanced setups. Even after everything (hopefully) returns to some form of normal, many consumers will likely still prefer setups that aren’t too crowded. This is not to say that crowded pubs will go away anytime soon — but there may be a shift.
For restaurants which rely on having as many tables full as possible, this may prove a challenge.
When the weather’s nice, outdoor dining can also be very pleasant, and since many restaurants are already so heavily invested in outdoor dining, they may continue to emphasize outdoor seating. Since indoor eating may still be restricted even if you’re vaccinated, outdoor may be the best we can get for a time, at least in some areas.
It’s hard to say just how many of these changes will revert back to pre-pandemic levels in time. But it’s like that at least some of these will be long-lasting, potentially permanent changes.