The COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire world to its knees, and the business sector was no exception. No matter what type of business you ran, whether it was a sprawling department store or a mom-and-pop candy shop, the coronavirus affected you one way or another. But one of the biggest blows dealt by this pandemic was to the restaurant industry.
With emergency shutdowns keeping us cooped up inside our homes, restaurants also had to completely close in some states. As food businesses were forced to shut their doors, the industry that employed 15.6 million people lost 5.9 million jobs in just six weeks. We wish we were exaggerating, but numbers don’t lie.
Months into the pandemic, states across the U.S. are now allowing restaurants and bars to reopen. You’d think that this was good news if people weren’t so afraid to eat out. And not to mention, restaurant owners also have to deal with the huge task of adapting hyper vigilance when it comes to preparation and serving.
From anxious diners to stricter protocols, the restaurant industry has faced many challenges. Luckily, there are creative business owners who chose to move beyond their comfort zone instead of backing down. Here are a few examples of how restaurants are innovating in the face of our current crisis:
Family-size To-go Meals
With schools closed and people working from home, restaurants have started offering family meal packages. These are built for value and convenience, as you can easily order appetizers, entrees, desserts, and beverages combined into more affordable bundles. Families get to save both money and time with a simpler ordering process, while restaurants boost their income for takeout and delivery.
You can set a fixed combination like what Bartaco offers with their Roasted Chicken Pack and Taco Pack. Or you could go the customizable route like Chick-fil-A and let customers build their meals from different menu options.
Americans are bored at home, trying to entertain themselves with activities such as gardening and baking. Restaurants have decided to bank in on the hobby craze with DIY meal kits. It might sound weird, but the concept is pretty simple. Customers are provided with ingredients and instructions so that they can prepare restaurant menu items in the comfort of their homes. Popular examples are cookie decorating kits and DIY pizzas.
But isn’t having someone else prepare your meal the entire point of ordering from restaurants? Plenty of people beg to differ, as the DIY kits provide a different sense of satisfaction. You get to learn how to do things on your own or enjoy a group activity with the family. The meals being a lot cheaper than your average takeout is just a bonus.
Even though people would rather stay home, that doesn’t mean that they don’t miss the sense of community they get when eating at restaurants. With restrictions on indoor dining, food trucks are a great mobile option that allows restaurants to offer their meals directly in our neighborhoods. More and more business owners are already purchasing mobile food trucks so that they can feed people where they are.
Food trucks can set up shop along highways, in residential neighborhoods, or even at establishment parking lots. Since restaurants are pretty much right at their doorsteps, customers are more comfortable dropping by to grab a quick bite and popping back in their homes right after. They even have the option to order ahead to lessen the waiting time.
In the age of the coronavirus, restaurant dining rooms may be empty, but lines at drive-through restaurants are long. Drive-through has become the lifeline for many food chains lately, and for good reason. You don’t have to worry about social distancing so much when your car serves as an additional barrier.
Aaron Allen, the founder of restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, states how drive-through revenue has increased in double digits. No wonder bigger fast-food chains such as Shake Shack and Chipotle Mexican Grill are already focusing on setting up drive-throughs at their locations. If you own a smaller restaurant and you don’t want to be late to the party, then you should already start planning.
Customer Rewards Programs
Even if the world is changing, there are still plenty of people out there who are wary of trying new things. In an attempt to encourage customers to order takeout or drive-through, restaurants have revamped their loyalty programs. Instead of just rewarding repeat customers, food businesses are now incentivizing patrons who try their new services. That cook-it-yourself kit looks a lot better with bonus points you can use to buy more food!
COVID-19 has challenged us all. But as the English proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Hopefully, this has helped struggling restaurant owners get into their creative side and strategize how they can better respond to the pandemic. We’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with.