Editor’s Note: Watch “Restaurant Nation: What Has Changed?” on CNN this Sunday at 8 PM ET. See how the industry is adapting in an episode of Anderson Cooper’s “The Whole Story” featuring celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
In March 2020, many restaurants in the US had to close in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with local regulations. Now, more than three years later, the restaurant industry is making a comeback. But the pandemic has brought some changes that will continue.
In the early days of the pandemic, people were used to eating restaurant food at home. Now, they’re back in restaurant dining rooms, but still prefer to buy their meals via drive-thru, pick-up or delivery than they used to. Meanwhile, restaurants are adapting not only to changes in consumer behavior, but also to new conditions in the industry, such as a decline in available workers as many people have left the industry in recent years.
Here’s how things changed.
Before the pandemic hit, Esther Choi’s Mokbal, a Korean restaurant in Manhattan, had 20 counter seats, but now it’s gone.
On his show The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper, Choi told chef Bobby Flay about how restaurants are adapting to the new reality: “After the pandemic, We decided to just do quick service,” he said. The episode airs on CNN on Sunday, August 13 at 8:00 pm ET.
She said the decision led to an increase in sales. Mokbal also continues to sell meals that her customers can reheat at home, delivering meal kits and kimchi nationwide. “We revisited the whole business model,” Choi said.
“The pandemic has taught consumers that they can still eat quality meals and that they don’t have to eat in restaurants,” said Technomic, managing principal at technomic, a research and consulting firm focused on the food industry. Joe Paulak said.
Restaurants across the country are realizing that they can run a successful business outside the dining room.
Local favorites such as the New York City bakery Levain and the small chain of fine Italian restaurants Carbone began selling packaged versions of their flagship products online and in stores shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak. continue to sell.
Restaurant chains are also testing new smaller formats designed for take-out orders, along with drive-throughs that eliminate seating altogether.
(MCD)For example, I was recently teasing the concept of a small format called CosMc’s. McDonald’s says that before delivery became so popular, small restaurants were essentially “off limits.”
(MCD) CEO Chris Kempczinski said on a recent conference call with analysts.
Other fast-food chains like Taco Bell are experimenting with drive-thru with more lanes, larger kitchens and no canteens at all.
When many restaurants were forced to close in 2020 due to the effects of the new coronavirus, many quickly launched delivery services. Over the past few years, customers have deepened their preference for this option.
Delivery was a lifeline for many restaurants, but it was expensive. Delivery providers such as DoorDash
(Uber) Eats and others stepped in when demand was so high, offering options to restaurants that hadn’t previously offered delivery. But along with fees to customers, they charged high fees that squeezed the restaurant’s bottom line.
Some restaurateurs ended up partnering with smaller providers who offered better rates or offered more courteous service. Eventually, big players gave restaurants more options, including lower-cost tiers of service.
Still, delivery isn’t a big deal for most restaurants, Polak said.
“I think restaurateurs still say that.” [third-party delivery] …remains a challenge from a profitability standpoint. ”
Some restaurants will suspend deliveries on weekends and during busy periods when dining room sales are high, he said.
Even chains that offered delivery before the pandemic have been weighed down by the pandemic’s growing trend.
(DPZ)has made deliveries its business card for years, but finds it difficult to find delivery drivers amid an influx of new competitors. The company has refrained from partnering with outside delivery providers for some time. But in July, the company relented and struck deals with Uber Eats and Postmates to appear on its platform but not use drivers.
Whether restaurants like it or not, “delivery is definitely going to stick,” says Pollack. But because “pricing has become astronomical” for customers, “I think delivery times are starting to slip,” he said.
With prices so high and customers already holding back on spending, some may leave delivery for special occasions and start turning to drive-thru and takeout options.
Still, DoorDash reported in August that overall orders increased in the second quarter.
Early in the pandemic, many restaurant employees were laid off. Others, worried about their health or the health of their loved ones, or simply burnt out in stressful situations, look for other jobs and stick with them.
More than three years after the pandemic hit the United States, some restaurant vacancies are still unfilled.
“Restaurant workforce is still below pre-pandemic levels.” This was announced by the National Restaurant Association. It will be announced in August following July’s employment data. “As of July 2023, restaurant employment was 64,000, or 0.5% below the February 2020 hiring peak.”
The pandemic has forced some restaurateurs to rethink their business models, with the goal of offering more benefits, consistency and transparency to their employees.
For example, Mr. and Mrs. Bonnie Morales and Mr. and Mrs. Israel Morales stopped tipping at their Kachka restaurant in Portland. They enacted a $25 minimum wage and began charging a mandatory service charge of 22% to offset the cost, he told Frey on Sunday’s episode of “The Whole Story.”
New York City restaurant and bar Donna closed during the pandemic and reopened as a worker-owned cooperative.
Restaurant chains have also raised wages slightly to attract and retain workers. But many of them are also fiercely opposed to legislation that could raise the minimum wage for fast food workers.
The industry as a whole “needs to do a better job of showing people that this is a good career,” Polak said. “I think we need to start moving forward in terms of improving pay for people.”