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The restaurant of the future: 6 ways restaurants can future-proof for success in a post-pandemic world

Photograph: Shutterstock

The pandemic has dramatically impacted the restaurant industry—more than 120,000 restaurants across the U.S. permanently closed in the past 12 months. And according to Bloomberg, numbers like that indicate that “more than 500,000 restaurants of every type—franchise, chain and independent—are in an economic free fall.”

As consumers continue to stay and eat at home, restaurateurs have struggled to keep up with sales. Almost 90% of full-service restaurants reported declines in a survey by the National Restaurant Association, with revenue falling an average of 36%.

Now, over a year into the pandemic, it’s easy to see how the restaurant industry has been permanently changed by COVID-19. But in many cases, the pandemic has been a chance for restaurants to innovate and find new, creative ways to serve customers. 

To succeed in the future, operators need to devise strategies for meeting a variety of potential business needs, from increased digital offerings to optimizing delivery, curbside pickup and other contactless ordering options; ensuring the safety of staff and diners alike; streamlining and refining menus to keep up with shifting consumer demands; evaluating packaging for off-premise orders; and shifting gears quickly in the wake of changing business restrictions.   

These six main changes show how restaurants must adapt to the post COVID-19 era and how operators can modernize operations to lock in future success.

Increased digital offerings

Restaurants have experienced rapid digital acceleration. Throughout the pandemic, restaurants with a strong digital presence, such as easy online or mobile ordering or a robust digital loyalty program, have seen increased engagement with customers. Most signs point to customers staying digitally engaged in a post-pandemic world. 

Restaurants will continue to move to frictionless ordering and payment, with an increase in online and mobile orders for pickup and delivery. Even inside restaurants, diners will be able to order their own food on tablets or kiosks to limit their exposure to employees and payment devices. The restaurant industry is ripe for technological innovation—anything from digital menus to tableside ordering and guest engagement apps can transform the dining experience to match new customer trends. 

But in order to accommodate these trends, restaurants must invest in new technology.

Streamline the off-premise ordering process

When and how customers pick up their takeout orders shouldn’t be a guessing game. Make sure to set up designated areas for customers to pick up their orders—and for third-party delivery partners to pick up orders, as well. If curbside pickup is offered, make sure customers know where they should park their car to wait for their order as well as how to alert the restaurant that they’ve arrived. 

Operators can also consider creating a specific area for order pickup. By changing the layout of the restaurant to accommodate this, operators can have staff place orders for pickup in the designated area, then head to the back of house, away from customers. This creates a truly contactless and safe experience for both staff and customers. By testing these processes in-house before rolling them out, operators can feel confident they’re offering a safe service.

Ensure employees are safe, not stressed

From rapidly changing safety guidelines to over- or under-staffing problems, operators have a lot on their plates when it comes to managing employees. But by introducing online ordering to deal with said safety guidelines, restaurants may experience a surge in business that can cause stress on back-of-house workers. Operators need to make sure their employees aren’t overwhelmed—hire enough people for the demand and rush periods, and make sure all staff are adequately trained in their duties. By ensuring staff are prepared and taken care of, restaurants can count on their employees to deliver great service to customers. 

Streamline the menu

This year, restaurant operators have had to pivot time and again to ensure they’re meeting the needs of their customers while keeping their businesses running smoothly. One of the changes many operators have made is changing the menu by way of reducing the number of items offered. In times when costs need to be trimmed wherever possible, removing less-popular dishes from the menu means there’s more bandwidth for the crowd-pleasing options. By keeping the higher-margin popular items on the menu for takeout and delivery orders, operators can ensure they’re offering everything their customers are craving—all while saving money.

Consider takeout and delivery packaging

With contactless ordering options only growing in importance, it’s paramount that any food ordered for off-premise eating arrives in top condition. That means assessing how food holds in containers and tweaking the packaging to ensure hot food doesn’t get cold, crispy foods don’t wilt and more. Perform onsite tests by placing different foods in existing to-go packaging, and see how the food looks and tastes after a waiting period of 30 minutes (to mimic the time it takes to be delivered). If the food isn’t in its best shape, consider changing the packaging being used for off-premise orders.

Get creative

Finally, in order for restaurants to future-proof operations, the ability to pivot based on business conditions or restrictions is critical. For instance, when dining rooms shuttered, many restaurants began offering meal kits on the menu—perfect for busy families who wanted to save time preparing dinner from scratch, for instance—as well as pantry-style ordering, wherein customers could shop ingredients as well as fully prepared meals. By innovating on a dime and offering customers something new in this digital and socially-distance era, restaurants can ensure their future success, all by adapting to current challenges.

Operations that enable businesses thrive in this new normal are a big help—from automated marketing to integrated ordering technology, Menuu is here to help.  To learn more about an advanced online ordering technology strategy and how it can enhance restaurant business operations, visit Menuu.com.

This post is sponsored by Menuu Software


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