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Oddfellows Cafe, Seattle, WA., reopened with Covid-19 protocols in place.

COVID-19: Restaurants Tackle New Challenges as Dining Moves Indoors

Since Covid-19 first emerged as a threat to public health earlier this year, restaurants have been managing months of uncertainty, and they continue to face new challenges almost every day. Restaurants have made impressive changes to accommodate Covid-19 requirements in order to stay viable while keeping staff and consumers safe. 

With the patio season ending in much of the U.S., capacity restrictions and physical distancing requirements reduce the number of diners, putting an added strain on already struggling restaurants. With an eye to the industry’s future, initially, short-term pivots are influencing plans for long term sustainability, where leanness, agility, and a consumer focus will be critical for adapting to what comes next.

Capacity restrictions on indoor dining

Source: National Restaurant Association, updated October 29, 2020

State-mandated indoor dining capacities range from 25% to 100% of pre-pandemic levels, and many individual counties and cities have imposed even stricter requirements. 

Even where capacities are relatively high, restaurants are still subject to social distancing guidelines for table spacing and foot traffic control. These restrictions can further reduce dining capacity in smaller dining spaces, but restaurants are continuing to adapt where they can.

Some changes are sticking

Many restaurants pivoted to off-premises alternatives like curbside pickup, meal kits, and delivery to keep revenues flowing and keep staff employed during stay-at-home orders. In contrast, others closed doors entirely and waited to reopen when seated service could resume. Menus have been overhauled (often more than once), procedures were redrawn, dining spaces renovated, and entire business models built around the fluctuating parameters of a pandemic-focused world. 

Short-term survival mode has given way to a longer-term outlook on what adaptations to keep and what additional adjustments full-service restaurants can make to deliver hospitality under variable circumstances effectively. With dining rooms mostly open and patios closing, restaurants have been implementing changes to comply with regulations and ease customers’ minds about dining indoors. 

Changes include:

  • Reorganizing or renovating dining spaces for physical distancing
  • Upgrading ventilation systems
  • Creating separate pickup areas away from dine-in guests
  • Continuing to offer off-premises options
  • Integrating reservation systems and virtual waitlists
  • Offering contactless payment options
  • Prioritizing online engagement

Quick adaptations can be a saving grace

As coronavirus cases rise, fall, and rise again, restaurants are some of the businesses most immediately affected, and adapting quickly to new circumstances will continue to be critical to long-term success. 

A key component of business strategy in the time of Covid-19 is being able to quickly make and implement decisions in response to changing conditions. With our proprietary AI technology, Klēn for business offers a better way to keep on top of rapidly changing Covid-19 circumstances by compiling all state, local, and industry regulations and CDC recommendations for your business in one efficient, accessible application.

Consumer want value, communication and consistency

Between disrupted schedules, school closures, lost jobs, and widespread uncertainty, Covid-19 has prompted important changes in when, where, and how consumers choose to spend their money. 

Value

In the U.S., overall spending is just 3.7% below pre-pandemic levels, but grocery spending has risen by 10%, indicating a shift towards essentials. Quality and value for the dollar have become even more important since Covid-19 began and will continue to play a significant role in dining decisions and other discretionary spending. 

Communication

Customers need to know what to expect from a restaurant when they come in to eat and order takeout and delivery. Whether guests will require temperature checks or masks, what health and sanitization protocols are in place, and how the restaurant implements social distancing should all be made clear on the restaurant website, on third-party sites, and in prominent signage at the restaurant itself. 

Restaurants can also keep consumers engaged with menu and opening status updates on their website and social media pages, through email, and even through Instagram cooking classes. As dine-in service remains limited in much of the country, online communication can help restaurants stay relevant to their customers and keep them excited about dining out.

Consistent health and safety measures

According to a survey undertaken this summer by Coca-Cola in Washington, New York, and Florida, 94% of patrons and 92% of restaurant owners wanted clear, universally applicable standards for restaurants to follow for a safe operation. 

The top 5 protocols that customers wanted to see in restaurants were:

  • Providing hand sanitizer for patrons
  • Limiting the number of customers in the restaurant
  • Making cleaning efforts more visible
  • Mandatory mask-wearing for employees
  • Mandatory temperature checks for employees

While there is no national, comprehensive set of rules to follow, the CDC and the National Restaurant Association have produced safety guidelines for restaurants, as have individual state and local health authorities. 

People are ready, but not ready, to dine out inside

Customers have returned to dining rooms, and even more want to dine out, but most are still anxious about the experience. In late June, a survey from McKinsey indicated that 80% of consumers had anxiety about eating in restaurants, a number that has declined over the past few months but has recently plateaued. 

In a late October survey, 42% of respondents felt confident dining out, but a majority also said they would be influenced by how well the restaurant was managing the risk of Covid-19. 

Building trust with a nervous customer base relies on reassuring them that your business is doing their best to protect their health and safety. The Klēn app lets customers see for themselves, which Covid-19 mitigation protocols their favorite restaurants are implementing, with their health and safety in mind.