The restaurant industry was no walk in the park before COVID-19, with most restaurant owners operating on razor-thin margins. This pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire hospitality industry, and restaurateurs have innovated to survive in these uncertain times. Here are a few of the ways they’ve changed the game:
1. Meal Kits & Subscriptions
Meal kit services like Hellofresh have been around for a few years, but some restaurants are now letting you make their signature dishes at home. Depending on the restaurant, you can even build custom packages, including menu items, merchandise, and of course — wine pairings!
2. Social Media
Fewer people are out and about these days, so restaurants have to find creative ways to reach their customer base and keep diners thinking about them. Social media has played a massive role in staying connected throughout the lockdown and reopening process. With more people searching for food online, business owners can’t ignore the importance of reviews and their online reputation. Having a strong social media presence and promoting positive reviews can give restaurants more online credibility.
3. Cooking Classes
Restaurant owners and chefs have utilized social media by hosting virtual cooking classes and sharing “how-to” videos on their platforms. Some restaurants have even paired meal kits with live instructional videos to boost their revenue. Other restaurant workers share cooking tutorials just for the fun of it — to keep in touch with their diners and connect with people during these challenging times.
4. Online Ordering Platforms
Ordering takeout and delivery online is nothing new, but the way independent restaurant owners and delivery services have come together recently has resulted in more availability and new features. Like Uber Eats, some platforms have been waiving fees for Black businesses and other small restaurants to help them get more exposure. Websites like cuboh.com offer independent restaurants a powerful tool that centralizes their online ordering and delivery apps and integrates their POS system.
5. Carryout Cocktails
Alcoholic beverages generally make up about 20-30% of a restaurant’s sales, as they are high-margin items. With many independent restaurants mostly operating through takeout and delivery services, some states have relaxed their laws prohibiting alcohol delivery. Innovative restaurateurs are using this opportunity to create new drinks and packages, like “quarantine,” make-your-own margaritas, and bloody mary kits.
6. Outdoor Dining
Like online ordering, dining alfresco isn’t new — but the way restaurants have been doing it lately certainly is unique. Not all venues have patio space, but once again, many cities are changing the rules to allow for more wiggle room. With outdoor dining permits waived, some restaurants have been able to spill into parking lots and streets. Denver restaurants are finding creative solutions for winterized outdoor dining, with greenhouse-style tents and plastic geodesic bubbles already popping up over town.
7. Going Green
Increased takeout service can have some negative consequences, like more plastic containers ending up in the garbage. Restaurants can help combat this issue by using more eco-friendly packaging, and delivery services like DoorDash are helping by giving diners the option to exclude plastic silverware and napkins. Other restaurants are literally going green by using indoor plants to improve air quality. The peperomia ginny is a stunning little plant that’s surprisingly low maintenance — so buying a few peperomias is a great way to spruce up the dining room and purify the air.
8. Ghost Kitchens
Also known as virtual kitchens, these eateries don’t need to worry about filling tables because they have no dining room, only a restaurant kitchen. Shifting to virtual operations can eliminate a lot of overhead — you wouldn’t have any wait staff on the payroll, for one thing — and it makes a lot of sense given COVID measures still in place. This business model, which is delivery-only, is sure to be around even after the pandemic is over.
Ghost kitchens won’t be the only COVID-era restaurant innovation that sticks around. It’s hard to imagine what the restaurant industry will look like six months from now, or if we’ll ever return to a sense of “normalcy.” The one sure thing is that restaurants will keep finding creative ways to keep their doors open and their diners fed.