The restaurant industry is slowly getting back to normal after a very rough year that saw more 110,000 eateries temporarily or permanently close their doors. Thanks to rising vaccination rates and other factors, including assurances from public health officials regarding the safety of dining out, consumers are once again comfortable with the idea of going to restaurants.
As restaurants begin catering to larger crowds, it’s expected that certain changes implemented in 2020 are bound to become permanent or, at the very least, stick around for a little while longer.
Reservations will be necessary. Many restaurants, even those that did not require reservations prior to the pandemic, may continue to encourage them. Not only will reservations give them greater control over the volume of patrons they host, but they also afford staff ample time to clean and disinfect tables and other surfaces.
Outdoor dining will still be available. Outdoor dining filled an important need and presented restaurants with an avenue to generate revenue when indoor dining was restricted or prohibited. A May 2021 Morning Consult survey found that diners prefer outdoor dining to indoor dining. With that in mind, restaurants likely will still set aside outdoor areas for diners to eat comfortably, particularly those who were successful in creating attractive and comfortable al fresco offerings.
More restaurants will offer takeout options. Even though on-premise dining had started to catch up to takeout orders for many restaurants by the spring of 2021, takeout figures to stick around to satisfy safety-minded customers who still desire curbside convenience.
Expect increased sanitation technology. Restaurants may continue to make upgrades with safety and sanitation in mind. In addition to touchless sink features, self-flushing toilets and minimal touch or touchless payment methods, businesses may implement UVC light air purification systems and upgrades in HVAC filtration. Barriers that were effective in preventing the spread of disease may remain in place to continue to protect workers and patrons from any type of airborne illness.
Loyalty programs will grow in popularity. Many organizations have implemented loyalty programs to track how often consumers patronize a business and to offer discounts and other deals for repeat customers. Restaurants may increasingly roll out loyalty programs that allow diners to earn points for each meal and reward repeat business through emailed coupons or free items.