Restaurants of the Future: Defining the New Normal
By definition, the concept of “normal” requires perspective for contrast; you can’t define “normal” without describing something abnormal first, and we are in extraordinary times. Three months into our global pandemic, it’s difficult to find fresh words to define the turmoil and tragedy surrounding our overnight paradigm shift. As the coronavirus has touched the restaurant and hospitality industry though, the mark has been indelible. From nearly ⅔ of all staff losing their jobs at the beginning of the quarantine period to the emerging restrictions in the wake of reopenings the first two quarters of 2020 have been historic. As the past has told us time and time again, the restaurants of the future will undoubtedly reflect the pressures of today.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
While restrictions on gatherings are slowly lifting and restaurants are allowed to reopen, there are some relatively universal responsibilities that owners and operators now face. In many places, occupancy is limited to a fraction of the original floor plan. In addition to reduced capacity, a recent survey indicates that 73% of respondents consider a clean restaurant and access to hand sanitizer a critical step in reopening. Your operation has to run leaner than ever to account for the limit to your potential in-house volume. Fortunately, there are some exciting new possibilities for off-premise revenue, to help supplement businesses in the interim before they return to full capacity.
With decreased in-house capacity, that means that guests need to be separated by distance at the least, and physical barriers when possible to better curb any potential contamination from table-to-table. Likewise, the CDC requires an onsite point person on staff at all times, to ensure that any coronavirus related concerns are addressed in a timely manner. From cleaning to guest management, it’s likely that you already have a solution in your existing tech stack. Let’s take a look at a few ways to adjust accordingly to our new normal.
Since March, many restaurants in the United States and beyond have been closed to in-house traffic. In that time, guest management was relegated to managing how you conducted business with patrons, which includes any means of off-premise contact from curbside to delivery. As restaurants reopen, guest management solutions will play a vital role in controlling your total intake. Restaurants are typically busier in the summer months, as people travel or seek a vacation and the restaurant of the future will need guest management. That means more and more people out —even if they aren’t traveling abroad— which in turn means a greater possibility of an unwanted congregation.
Imagine a Friday evening after the quarantine has lifted. Picture patrons hungry for a night on the town visiting a restaurant, ready to beat their cabin fever, and enjoy the company of one another. With a diminished capacity, restaurants have less internal real-estate as to where they can seat guests. Do they wait for a table to become available? If so, where do they wait? If the weather is warm enough, the likelihood of guests gathering outside is greater, which is a potential public health risk.
The right guest management software can help resolve this issue. Instead of a hectic evening of customers awaiting the precious few seats available, digitally managing traffic provides owners and operators a means of regulating the flow of guests. Many restaurants now require reservations as a potential means of contact tracing, while mitigating the possibility of overbooking in limited spaces.
While there are no concrete indications so far that the coronavirus spreads through surfaces, increased sanitary protocols are a must for reopening. As with many aspects of containing the pandemic, enhanced sanitation is one of a variety of methods to help decrease the overall likelihood of possible infection and contamination. Restaurant management platforms are designed to let owners and operators know where each guest is in their dining journey.
In knowing that information, restaurateurs can train staff to react accordingly to quickly clean the area according to CDC protocols between each table turn. In fact, many guest management solutions are programmable, allowing operators to enter reminders to staff to satisfy various front-of-house demands, like refilling sanitizer dispensers or changing out the table cloth, etc.
Back of House
The kitchen is the heart of the restaurant of the future and today, and for the last few months, the lifeblood as well. When in-house traffic ground to a halt, the kitchen kept providing for restaurant off-premise needs. The role of the kitchen will remain just as vital tomorrow as it was yesterday. With an increased focus on cleanliness, back-of-house (BOH) efforts are more critical than ever.
Inventory management tools can help trace and track food, to ensure that restaurateurs know where their ingredients came from, and how fresh they are. The right kitchen display system is already designed to decrease ticket times and enhance precision without losing either quality or quantity. As restaurants begin to reopen, a good KDS will also:
- Route orders according to in-house and off-premise dining.
- Utilize capacity management to avoid another Mother’s Day fiasco.
- Provide data analytics that can inform your future decisions.
Given the breadth of responsibilities that are now placed on restaurateurs to reopen, there are options within your BOH tech stack that can streamline efforts.
Cleanliness is an integral part of cleaning and bin management helps you stay on track. The purpose of bin management is spelled out in the name: a system to help you manage your bins. The way that the program works by periodically sending out orders, reminders for staff to replenish critical ingredients. Use bin management to stay on top of your order needs and to enhance your cleaning and sanitation BOH details.
Restaurant staff around the world lost their jobs after the pandemic shuttered restaurants. The National Restaurant Association reports that two out of every three restaurant employees have lost their jobs since quarantine protocols were placed into effect. As restaurants reopen, staff will need to be rehired and retrained, and in many cases, possibly entirely replaced. Fortunately, there are tools like recipe viewers that can help train staff on how to prepare meals. This is ideal for any menu that has undergone recent changes, perhaps to streamline for enhanced off-premise deliverability. Likewise, As with a bin management system, these viewers are programmable to submit “ghost tickets,” non-food order items that are reminders to your BOH staff to clean or address other issues.
For the last several months, off-premise dining has served as the foundation that props up the restaurant industry. Off-premise requests manifest in a variety of ways, depending on the requirements of the restaurant. For example, you might have curbside, carry out, drive-thru, or delivery options, all of which require a specific routing. When that routing isn’t properly addressed, orders can bottleneck in your kitchen. Without knowing where the order is going, orders can languish in wait, with in-house and off-premise channels creating internal confusion and long waits. When possible, look for platforms that can aggregate off-premise orders, ensuring that they get to the right person at the right time.
The restaurants of the future are here already, and the innovations continue to come. In the short term, restaurateurs may employ QR codes and touchless transactions through patrons’ smartphones. With social distancing, restaurant marketers can emphasize both safety and the health involved in extra steps. Touchless refill stations are another near-future possibility, as a means of decreasing human-to-human interaction. Further down the line, many startups are already receiving funding to develop robots and autonomous drones for contactless delivery. For now, restaurateurs have many options using their existing tech stack to satisfy our new normal.
How has the pandemic altered your course? Click the link below for our page containing helpful restaurant resources for the COVID-19 outbreak.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.