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  • Writer's pictureDavid B Townsend

Explore changes for Restaurants Post Pandemic

Spring of 2020, the Corvid-19 pandemic has wholly upended the restaurant industry. Social distancing required almost all restaurants to either close or only offer take-out when most have not operated in this manner. Take-home meal preparation and packaging requires a new set of procedures, and not everything on a menu will travel even a short distance. The whole business model needs to change, and few restauranteurs are ready for it.

The take-home meal, which for years has been a growing trend, is nowhere and likely to stay for years to come. In a March article in the New York TIMES, writer David Marchese interviewing restaurateur David Chang*1 about the effects of mass closing of restaurants, asked: "Is there a sustained move toward delivery and away from in-restaurant dining in that new world? His question, of course, is about the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the entire foodservice industry—Chang's answer: "Yes. Not to sound callous, but that's it. I thought that shift would happen over the next 10, 15 years, and no one would have noticed because it would've happened gradually. This change is now going to happen instantaneously. I'm not sure what that looks like. The same issues of delivery are going to remain: who delivers food and what kind of food is delivered." Every restaurant now has to consider take-out as a necessity. Operators, merely trying to stay alive, are transitioning from table service to packaging and bagging some menu items for curbside service. But that process isn't where most operators are comfortable. Traditional restaurant service, which came out of French styling and the concept of fine dining, still resonates with many restaurant operators. The model is simple: sit down with a menu, a server takes the order, food is made-to-order, and then brought to the table. However, that model doesn't work in many people's lives, and the trend has been slowly moving toward more take-out and pre-ordering. Look at a Panera Bread restaurant. Their system is spot on for a new way of serving food: kiosk ordering, on-site, or via a phone app. You show up at the pick-up window, and everything is ready. You don't even have to interact with anyone. That is going to be a model for years to come. Many restaurants will have difficulty implementing a take-out plan because it requires researching eco-friendly packaging, hot containers, cold display cases, and even new software to implement ordering and tracking sales trends. Restaurants also need to display key items, like roasted meats, sandwiches, salads, and sides. Marketing and building a brand of 'signature items' that travel and retain quality for in-home consumption need to be considered in detail. It would help if you had a cold and maybe a hot display case to sell some menu items. I've been writing articles and talking to various restaurant and café owners in Northern California for years about putting an innovative take-home-foods program in their establishments. Why? To stay ahead of the trend which many food writers, research specialists, and critics have predicted. Increasing demand from the public for restaurants to offer off-site meals. Since many diners are abandoning the unhealthy fast food craze of the past decade, lives have evolved for more convenience and better quality, a take-home program in most restaurants, in the future in food services. Derek Thompson, of the ATLANTIC, has written extensively on trends in foodservice, writes: "In 2015, for the first time on record, Americans spent more money at restaurants than at grocery stores. In 2020, more than half of restaurant spending is projected to be "off-premise"—not inside a restaurant. In other words, spending on deliveries, drive-throughs, and takeaway meals will soon overtake dining inside restaurants, for the first time on record." (*2) The concept is relatively straightforward. Put in a display case of pre-made entrees or at least sandwiches and snacks for guests to take out. Even if you're primarily selling coffee and pastries, you can add sales by offering quiche, lunch salads, or other prepared items they can take with them after they get their coffee for a simple, quick lunch at work or on the road. If you are primarily a dinner house, you can offer signature items as an afternoon pick-up packaged for immediate holding and reheating in a home oven. Your dining room area where you could install a cold display case should be visible to the street if possible. Build a small display of 'signature' items that can hold well for a few hours or a day. Some items can be sold in oven-safe containers, others in microwaveable, and others are simple cold. Consider the packaging carefully as you need to brand and label your new service, not as a quick fix ( although it may be at this first stage), but as a long-term way of doing business. Think about labels with logos, bags, containers, and find items that will allow you to create an image with your take-home meals. What and how restaurants tackle the new paradigm will depend on their physical locale and possibly a reconfiguration of the space and capital to invest in new equipment. Most certainly, they need a display case and investment in packaging. High-quality recyclable containers can get expensive, and some consideration of environmentally friendly packaging should be considered, not only for branding your products but also for contributing to another aspect of how this virus began in the foodservice market. Adding a walk-up window to your entry is one idea. I've seen this work at small cafes,' which serve simple crepes late into the night, as the bars close. Not only can you maintain a safe way to sell your menu, but it requires minimal staff. A food truck may be a possible addition to your concept if you have a parking lot or a street location that will permit this operation type. With city governments struggling with lost tax revenues, I think this will become more n accepted planning consideration. If you have the opportunity to build a steady clientele, you could offer hot meals from 3 to 7 pm for people to take home hot and keep warm in aluminum serving containers. Caterers do this all the time for off-site events. Meats are braised and cooked rare, so when you take the container home, you simply put it in a hot oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking and serve hot but not overcooked. Whole family meals can be prepared, packed, and taken home to finish heating in this manner. So whether you have pre-orders for pick up, a cold case with microwavable items, or offer a whole roast chicken, meatloaf, and ribs in an oven-safe holding container, you can offer a variety of items depending on your menu and food concept. Obviously, things like fries, tempura, and quickly cooked to serve items will not travel well, and you don't want to offer these. If you're a restaurateur or in any type of seated food service, you need to think this through and come up with options that could save your business. This change will be dramatic and long-lasting. Once you work out the bugs of operating as a mostly take-home business, you will have developed a whole new market for food sales in your community even when things get back to normal. If you would like to discuss your situation and explore new service ideas for your food-service business contact me., or use the contact tab on the home page.


*1 Derek Thompson the ATLANTIC Jun 20, 2017 "The Paradox of American Restaurants." *2*1 Derek Thompson the ATLANTIC Jun 20, 2017 "The Paradox of American Restaurants." *2 Since 2004, when David Chang helped to reconfigure the dining establishment's ideas about what a great restaurant could be with Manhattan's Momofuku Noodle Bar, he has opened more than a dozen restaurants around the world; hosted two seasons of his Netflix documentary series, "Ugly Delicious"; started a hit podcast, "The Dave Chang Show"; published the defunct, much-loved food magazine "Lucky Peach"; and now written a memoir, the forthcoming "Eat a Peach," with a co-author, Gabe Ulla. In doing all that, Chang, 42, has become a food-world icon, broadened the country's palate and made us more thoughtful about what we eat.]


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