Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant industry was already experiencing a steady and growing rise in the popularity of meal delivery and takeout.
With the arrival of Covid-19 and the public restrictions imposed to slow its spread — including a nearly nationwide shutdown of in-person dining — many restaurants turned to off-premises dining as the only available source of revenue.
Restaurants adapted quickly to keep their doors open, and many consumers responded by getting their first taste of various digital options, including online ordering and third-party delivery services.
“People who weren’t comfortable as a delivery consumer are now becoming comfortable, so it becomes the new norm,” says Greg Oplinger of Helix Solutions Group.
A lasting change
That growing comfort may mean that restaurants will see a permanent shift toward increased off-premises dining. Many experts anticipate that the coronavirus response will hasten and amplify the previous trend toward delivery.
This change may necessitate some lasting adjustments from restaurants. Here are a few ways they can adapt to better serve diners, both in-house and on-the-go:
- Introduce a second make line
With restaurants needing to juggle the in-person experience with the off-premises one, they may find they need a new arrangement to adequately serve both audiences.
A second make line dedicated to assembling takeout and delivery orders prevents clogging up the primary line and makes fulfillment easier and smoother.
Oplinger cites Chipotle as an example of an operation that made a similar move recently in order to streamline order fulfillment for both to-go orders (mostly submitted online) and in-store customers.
LTI’s patented QuickSwitch is a great option for this kind of addition. With the ability to hold hot and cold foods side-by-side — and to switch between temperatures in an hour or less — QuickSwitch offers unmatched flexibility and can be the heart of a dedicated delivery area. Learn more here.
- Reconfigure restaurant access
As off-premises dining increases and mingles with the gradual return of in-person dining, many restaurants may find they’ll want to modify restaurant access points.
A dedicated entrance for delivery drivers or diners picking up to-go orders keeps them from brushing shoulders with in-person customers waiting for a table.
Outback Steakhouse took this approach several years ago to create a separate restaurant entrance for to-go orders at many of its locations, keeping that traffic away from their main dining area.
A change of access could also mean installing locker box-style equipment, like Little Caesar’s introduced, to enable zero-contact food pick up.
- Go virtual
Restaurants, particularly the kind of full-service operations that rely on the dining experience to draw in patrons, may find it’ll be a while before their dining rooms are bustling again, if ever.
“When carryout becomes a larger portion of their business, the whole dining room scenario, which is very expensive, is going to be minimal,” says Oplinger.
With excess capacity in their kitchen, these restaurants can potentially increase sales by creating a digital-only, delivery-forward brand — operated from the same physical space but reaching a whole new audience.
This kind of ‘virtual’ or ‘ghost’ kitchen allows restaurants to more fully utilize their space and labor without altering or cannibalizing the existing brand.
“Anytime you have a major shift, it’s the Wild West,” says Oplinger. “There’s an opportunity to become relevant, to create a new you in this new market space if you innovate and act fast enough.”
Can operations find a way to create the restaurant experience at home? Are there unique ways to deliver or offer food that’ll get attention?
No matter the approach, creative marketing will be key to getting your offerings in front of customers when there’s less reliance on foot traffic, says Oplinger.
Learn more about how LTI can help support the changing needs of restaurants with our advanced serving technology.