COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdown of in-person dining forced restaurants to turn to off-premises dining as the only available source of revenue.
Though delivery had been on the rise for several years prior to the pandemic, many restaurants had to pivot quickly to ramp up or start a delivery program in order to keep serving customers. And diners responded, many by getting their first taste of digital options like online ordering and third-party delivery services.
Even as restrictions on in-person dining begin to ease across the country, the effect of several months of change may be long-lasting and may require restaurants to consider how best to meet new needs. Many experts anticipate the coronavirus response will hasten and amplify the previous trend toward delivery.
A lasting change
Guidelines for restaurant reopening in many places include dining room capacity limits in order to maintain safe social distancing. In these cases, off-premises dining may continue to be a crucial piece of the operational and financial puzzle.
When restrictions eventually disappear, potentially many months down the road, many diners may have permanently changed their habits, opting to embrace the convenience of delivery over the traditional on-premise dinner.
Here are a few ways restaurants can adapt to better serve customers, no matter how they choose to dine:
1. Introducing a second make line
Restaurants juggling the in-person experience with off-premises service may find they need a new arrangement to adequately serve both audiences. A dedicated make line for takeout and delivery prevents clogging up the primary line with take-out orders and makes fulfillment easier and smoother.
Oplinger cited Chipotle as an example of an operation that made a recently in order to streamline order fulfillment for both to-go orders (mostly submitted online) and in-store customers.
With the ability to hold hot and cold foods side-by-side—and to switch between temperatures in an hour or less—LTI’s patented QuickSwitch serving technology is a great option for this kind of addition. Learn more here.
2. Rearranging restaurant access
Modifying restaurant access points may help operators control flow, for both logistical and safety reasons. A dedicated entrance for delivery drivers or diners picking up to-go orders keeps this foot traffic away from in-person customers awaiting a table.
Outback Steakhouse made a similar move several years ago to create a separate restaurant entrance for to-go orders at many of its locations. Another alternative to supporting off-premises dining could be locker box-style equipment, like Little Caesar’s introduced, to enable zero-contact food pickup.
3. Going 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.
“When carryout becomes a larger portion of their business, the whole dining room scenario, which is very expensive, is going to be minimal,” Oplinger said.
These types of restaurants can potentially use the excess kitchen capacity to create a whole new dining experience—and new revenue driver—by instituting a “virtual” or “ghost” kitchen. They can develop a digital-only, delivery-forward brand that is operated from the same physical space but reaches a new online audience.
This kind of operation allows restaurants to utilize their space and labor more fully without altering or cannibalizing the existing brand.
“Any time you have a major shift, it’s the Wild West,” Oplinger said. “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 operators find a way to create the restaurant experience at home? Are there unique ways to deliver or offer food that’ll get attention?
Learn more about how LTI can help support the changing needs of restaurants with advanced serving technology.
This post is sponsored by LTI, Inc.