Eating out is a pastime that has been a critical part of our culinary culture. There is a real threat to the restaurant ecosystem, and that threat is the coronavirus pandemic. Of all the industries that have struggled over the past year and a half, the hospitality and catering market has been one of the hardest hit.
Restrictions imposed to help prevent the spread of the virus have led to thousands of restaurants and bars closing, and approximately one in four of those employed in the service industry in the US have lost their jobs.
Now that things are starting to return to some level of normalcy, we can expect there to be something of a surge in demand. However, there is a fear that we wonít return to the same levels as previously.
Itís perhaps understandable that some are reticent to get back to eating from restaurant chairs and are instead electing to order take out instead, and this is leading to the concern that ghost kitchens will overtake traditional eatery establishments even long after the COVID-19 threat retreats into our memory.
What Are Ghost Kitchens?
Though the term might conjure up images of some sort of horror movie, the concept is fairly simple. A ghost kitchen is simply a food prep area, and it differs from a restaurant because it has no waiters, no tables for customers, and no parking lot.†
Itís simply a space where chefs cook, and the meals they make are accessible via food delivery apps. Indeed some ghost kitchens house staff from multiple Ďrestaurantsí and make meals for different eateries, which are then delivered to your door.
Think about it this way; Itís a takeout option that doesnít come from a physical restaurant, and as a concept, it makes sense; however, itís threatening to deal the restaurant industry a real blow.
What COVID-19 Did to the Restaurant Industry
Takeout from your local restaurant was already on the rise, long before COVID-19, as it suits our way of life. Perhaps weíve become too busy to sit down for a couple of hours in a restaurant and truly enjoy a meal and the ambiance that itís served.
The internet and mobile devices have, of course, made the delivery of food far easier, and centralized delivery services helped take the burden of getting meals from a to b, so when the coronavirus pandemic hit and made it impossible actually to go to our favorite restaurants and eat, it was always going to lead to a rise in delivery options.
How Restaurants Must Diversify
Restaurants struggled to deal with the restrictions imposed upon them at the onset of the pandemic, with capacities slashed and strict guidelines in place for those that did manage to serve customers in person.†
The restaurants that managed to stay afloat effectively were either those who already had a strong takeout menu and delivery system or had large outdoor seating availability. If you had neither, then you were toast.
With a large proportion of the restaurants in any given city now closed, itís up to those that remain open to start to re-think their plans. Even after the coronavirus pandemic has truly passed, itís likely that many will be reticent to venture out to eat.†
In order to make that happen, a restaurant will have to give customers a reason to do so, and that will require a great deal of work and thought.
Why a Return to Eating Out Is Inevitable
In the same way, as the coronavirus has led to a surge in businesses and workers working off-site, from home, or hot-desking, there is sure to be a bounce back to the ways of the recent past.
The connection we make when we meet communally isnít one we can so easily forget about, and so it will transpire that a resurgence in restaurant-going is sure to occur in the not-so-distant future.
However, restaurants will have to up their game when it comes to easing customersí concerns in relation to the pandemic, and that will mean an end to squeezing in clients into capacities that are unmanageable (your waiters will thank you for that also).†
Additionally, restaurants will no doubt start to deal with in-house custom and takeout with equal importance and planning. We may start to see restaurants only open on specific days or shifts and open only to takeaway for the remainder. Ghost kitchens may well still be in use, but chiefly to act as a conduit for the takeout sector of a restaurantís business.†
A New Normal
As recently as maybe a decade or two ago, a trip to a restaurant was considered a luxury for most, and it may transpire that a return to a similar trend is likely. There are parallels to the hospitality industry found in others; for instance, you have the film industry.
Going to the cinema was, at one time, a pastime that wasnít an every weekend activity and then became a regular occurrence as it entered into a mainstream market.†
Even before the coronavirus, the act of going to see a movie lessened with the advent of streaming services. Much like the restaurant industry, the cinema world was dealt a heavy blow during the opening months of the pandemic.
Now the film industry is trying to reinvigorate its corner of the entertainment industry. In order to make it relevant to 2021, audiences and restauranteurs may have to pay heed to this.
If going to a restaurant does cease to be a regular weekly activity, then those who run the hospitality industry will need to adjust their way of marketing their service. High-end eateries may well look to go further upscale in order to retain their slice of the pie, and those at the other end of the scale will have to do likewise.
Perhaps those restaurants that exist in the middle will have to be the most imaginative in their approaches. The one thing that they all have in their favor is that customers do prefer to eat in restaurants. They just need to be convinced of the reasons to do so. Whether thatís a budgetary calculation or a case of offering more of a bang for their buck, itís a test that restauranteurs will have to work hard to pass.
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