Hard as it may be to believe, there was a point in time when diners could enter a restaurant, get seated at a table in close enough proximity to a neighboring one to be able to clearly overhear conversations, pursue menus previously handled by countless customers, and season their meals with communal condiments.
Those days are now gone. The coronavirus outbreak has forced restaurants to take a far more sterile approach to serving diners in person. And a lot of the changes we've seen implemented in the course of the pandemic are likely here to stay. Here are just some of the ways restaurants are continuing to adapt to their new reality -- and ensure that they remain sustainable in a post-COVID world.
Sanitizing menus between customers can be a big ask, especially as capacity limits are lifted and restaurants begin to enjoy a steadier stream of diners. The solution? Digital menus. Nowadays, restaurants ask customers to use their phones to scan special codes that bring up their menus on screen. It's a safer alternative to sharing menus and an easy, cost-effective way for restaurants to make menu changes to account for seasonal ingredients and specials.
2. Disposable plates and utensils
While fine dining establishments are unlikely to ditch their silverware and china anytime soon, casual restaurants are likely to continue the practice of serving customers on paper plates with plastic utensils. Though commercial dishwashers typically do a decent job of sanitizing plates and silverware, they're not infallible, and in a post-coronavirus world, getting stuck with a suspiciously sticky fork or stained plate could be enough for a customer to never come back again.
3. Sanitizing stations
Restaurant staff members can get frantic and busy, and running into a restroom for a full handwashing session every 10 minutes is hardly feasible during the dinner rush. To this end, restaurants will likely make a point to install sanitizer dispensers throughout their facilities so employees and customers alike can enjoy a less germ-filled dining experience.
4. Separate areas for food pickup
Before the pandemic, it was common to walk into a restaurant and wait for a takeout order at its bar or in a crowd of patrons waiting to be seated. Now, a lot of dining establishments have separate areas for takeout orders, and those will likely remain even once the pandemic is over, especially since it can make for a more efficient outflow of food.
5. More outdoor seating
During the pandemic, outdoor dining saved a lot of restaurants, especially those in warm-weather climates that could offer outside seating all year long. Now that restaurants have invested heavily in tents, outdoor heaters, and other such equipment designed to make al fresco dining more feasible, they're unlikely to dump it. Quite the contrary -- we could see restaurants get even more creative in utilizing outdoor space and allowing customers to enjoy their meals in the open air. Those with setups that allow for outdoor dining even in cold temperatures can benefit from that increased capacity, too.
The Millionacres bottom line
While a large number of restaurants were forced to close permanently during the pandemic, many have managed to survive -- good news for the commercial landlords who rely on them to pay rent. Now that the idea of a post-COVID world is becoming more of a feasible reality, we can bet that certain changes will stay in effect across the restaurant industry. Ideally, those changes will only work to strengthen restaurants after the challenging year they've had.