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The Future of Restaurants:  Post COVID-19

The Time To Innovate Is NOW

The Future of the Restaurant Industry:
Now is the time for the industry to begin to develop innovative ways that restaurants can start welcoming diners back, in a world where, in the near term, social distancing will still need to be in place. 

With the cold reality setting in that until a vaccine has been developed, social distancing is here to stay for what could be a year or longer restaurants must find ways to open to diners as most simply cannot survive this long on take out and delivery alone.  The question that we all need to be posing today is not when the economy will reopen with respect to restaurants, but rather how can restaurants adapt to social distancing requirements.   Bars would need patrons to sit six feet apart.  While a virtual death sentence for the singles scene, if seats are cleaned and sanitized, single or couple diners could potentially space themselves six feet from the next group or individual.   Tables would have to be six feet apart.  Protocols would need to be put in place to sanitize after each group, plus the likelihood of friends gathering at a restaurant would be diminished, such that restaurants may want to favor tables that seat two, with a few options for families as well.   Ventilation systems may become a new requirement, to draw air away from diners into a filtration system.  Outdoor dining may have greater prospects, but might require easements from cities to allow chairs and tables to expand into sidewalks or beyond the normal footprints.  As the country moves into the spring, there is a prospect for outdoor dining to blossom.

New norms may evolve, where people who are tested and found to have antibodies, will be able to participate differently than those who are not known to be immune.   We may be carrying immunity cards, or at very least have our temperature taken before we enter an establishment.   Restaurants may need to provide different services for different, customers based on health, risk and immunity.
Next the whole paradigm of waitstaff may need to change.   Diners could order on iPADs, technology that already exists, or on their own phones.  Or they might order at the register and pre-pay.   Instead of a waiter bringing orders to the table, orders might be staged and when a diner is notified that their meal is ready, they would go to the staging area after the meal has been set down, and pick it up themselves preventing proximity to the kitchen or wait staff. 

The time is now to start developing these ideas because the sooner they are concretized, the easier it will be for governments to approve them.   

Without unlimited space, restaurants would have to operate at lower capacity, but even at 30% of current capacity, most restaurants would be able to combine this new experience with takeout to create a viable path to surviving the next year.

It's time for restaurants, the State and Regional Restaurant Associations as well as the the National Restaurant Association to start putting some of these ideas out, because faced with the option of stay closed, or open up as they always have, we are looking at an industry that may be a fraction of what it once was.   And we are talking about the potential end to an industry, a passion, and a way of life through food, not to mention a livelihood for so many that has thrived for almost 300 years.

Mark's Blog - April 14, 2020

The first restaurant in the world opened in Paris in 1765.   Monsieur Boulanger served a single dish, sheep's feet.   While taverns and inns might have served food, they were primarily visited for alcohol or lodging, while people customarily ate at home.   The novel idea to have a business which primarily attracted diners started what we know today as a restaurant.