As with just about every aspect of hospitality, restaurants have been dramatically changed by COVID-19. The ability to quickly pivot, refocus, and address the new wants and needs of cautious consumers is at the core of what will ensure the future success of restaurants. As we look ahead to “build back better” in such uncertain times, here are six things we can be certain about, according to a recent report from CatchOn – A Finn Partners Company:
- Ghosts are real and a reality for future restaurants. Call it cloud, virtual, or digital, but off-premise kitchens are here to stay and will be part of restaurant business models going forward. Restaurants will have to find creative ways to unbundle and reframe the dining experience in the same way that retailers have had to create omni-channel strategies in the wake of ecommerce. Recovery will require developing a new long-term economic model that includes partial on-premise dining and an expansion of off-premise solutions.
- Restaurant design going forward will build in safety and hygiene measures and technology (for example, contactless dining rooms, built-in UV light sanitizers, etc.) in a way that’s non-intrusive. Expect new material finishes with strong tactile and emotional qualities to add warmth to physical spaces. Nature and biophilic design are net winners. And the ultimate holy grail: outdoor space.
- Expect more temporary pop-ups…outdoors, in nature, via mobile pods, in repurposed industrial sites, underused parking lots, and vacant real estate. Food trucks will come back in vogue, but instead of being parked in locations, they’ll be doing the neighborhood rounds. (Think repurposed ice cream trucks.)
- Menus will become more streamlined, sincere, and soul soothing. Count on a heaping portion of nostalgia and more of mom’s recipes on the menu for feel-good, hearty food.
- Restaurants will take on social issues head on. Whether it’s workplace wellness, hunger, inequality, sustainability, or unfair labor practices, restaurant owners are realizing and mobilizing their agency over social change. Through food banks and pantries, they’re redefining their restaurants’ roles and rebuilding their neighborhoods.
- Restaurants will continue to be our portal to (non) travel and new cultures. With travel bans in place for the foreseeable future, the closer we’ll get to discovering and experiencing new places through plates—destination restaurants, “third culture” chefs riffing on cross-culture cuisines, and ethnic eateries serving iconic dishes.
One thing we can all be certain about: Restaurants bring people together. And in as much as this is under threat today, we will need this human connection to build back better. Restaurants will be critical in bringing neighborhoods and communities back to life.