Embracing Change for Post-Pandemic Operations

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With governments across Canada revealing their post-COVID-19 reopening plans, considering the future of the foodservice industry is more relevant than ever. While in many places, restaurants don’t yet have a slated opening date, there are many things we can already predict about this upcoming relaunch.

First, although most of the population has been anticipating this re-opening for a long time, many people will remain skeptical about the safety of eating out again, so we expect to see a lag in the number of consumers dining out in restaurants upon their re-opening.

Even following restaurant re-openings,physical-distancing measures will still be in effect for the foreseeable future, which will have a huge impact on the way restaurants function. Inevitably, operators will have to re-think and increase their sanitation measures and, more importantly, include these initiatives in their communications plans. While most restaurants haven’t needed to promote their hygiene practices to their consumers in the past, this will now become an important facet of the operation that consumers will want to see.

Most of the changes in the foodservice industry post-COVID-19 will be physical, including the possible installation of plexiglass between tables, lowered capacities and staff outfitted in gloves and masks. Many restaurants will likely require guests to pay by credit or debit card only and will continue to regularly sanitize their payment machines. Some businesses may also start taking the temperature of employees at the start of their shifts. Another change may come in terms of menus. Whereas consumers are used to having menus on their table, they may be solely on chalkboards or up on the wall in the future to prevent the spread of germs.

While sanitation procedures are easy for operators to adapt, physical-distancing restrictions will be a huge burden. Restaurants will be able to embrace physical distancing through the use of plexiglass, distanced tables and lowered capacities, but the toll it will take on their profitability is another matter altogether. The industry has very low profit margins and reducing guest count by any significant number can be detrimental. As most restaurateurs know, 50 per cent of any reduction in revenue flows down to a reduction in profits. A capacity reduction of even 30 per cent can have a devastating effect on profitability and a restaurant’s ability to survive, so operators will need to rethink their pricing models for the post-COVID-19 reality; they’ll need to raise their menu prices in order to be profitable and consumers should be prepared for this.

The future of foodservice will undeniably see many new innovations, as well as challenges. Restaurateurs and consumers alike should be prepared for a different kind of restaurant experience, mostly in terms of sanitation and pricing. The hospitality industry is a resilient one, though, and with the continued creativity and innovation it has shown throughout this pandemic, these changes will soon become the new normal.

David Hopkins, president of Fifteen Group, is a restaurant financial expert with more than 30 years in the hospitality industry. He specializes in menu engineering and systems and procedures to increase restaurant profit- ability. The Fifteen Group, which has offices located in Toronto and Vancouver, supports clients from owner-operated establishments to multi-unit restaurant corporations.

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