The latest in Coronavirus news is that mobs of Karens have sprung up in several cities demanding the reopening of non-essential businesses. And as idiotic as that is, it’s hard to ignore that people are getting tired of the quarantine and just want things to go back to normal.
Whether or not our old ideas of “normal” (crumbling infrastructure, underappreciation of “essential” workers) are something we would even want to go back to is beyond the scope of this website. However, what can be said is that we are well beyond the point of no return for any sense of normalcy in the restaurant industry. Big changes are coming, one way or another.
Option #1: The Overly Optimistic
The vacuum left in COVID-19’s wake will allow for new business owners to move in, ushering in a new era of creativity.
Experts are predicting that even after COVID comes and goes, the real estate industry is going to take some time to recover. A big factor of that is that many companies that have been forced to have their employees work from home are finding that doing so has a lot of benefits, and as such may be moving away from the traditional office building entirely.
What does that have to do with restaurants? Well, if real estate costs across the board go down, that means the cost of buying or renting a restaurant will go down as well. Aspiring-chefs could theoretically finally open their own restaurants, bringing new names and ideas to the scene. Several chefs in the past decade have also said that some of their wildest, most creative cooking that ended up launching their careers had come when they were at the brink of failure and said, “fuck it, if we’re going out, let’s go out with a bang.” If it’s true for individual chefs, there’s a good chance it’s true for the industry as a whole. And by the time that we get to that point, the industry will have nothing left to lose.
Speaking of “Overly Optimistic,” it would be nice if restaurants found a way to continue to provide things like health insurance, sick days, and childcare options that were always considered inconceivable to offer but now do since everyone’s realized how much of a liability it can be not to.
Option #2: Same As it Ever Was
The biggest names in the industry will become the only names in the industry.
Even if real estate costs are down, opening a restaurant is still very costly. Banks and lenders will be wary of how easily the restaurant industry can be shut down, so no one’s going to invest in these no-name chefs trying to start from scratch. I’m not saying that every family-owned restaurant in your town is going to be bought out by Applebee’s, but it’s already been estimated that independent restaurateurs expect to have a 30% chance of surviving if the pandemic lasts another two months. The only ones who will be able to enjoy further growth are the industry giants who manage to survive through it all.
Some have also noted that there’s a possibility that, at least for the year or so it’s going to take to develop a vaccine, gloved and masked employees and half-capacity dining rooms will probably become the norm in the industry. This may even lead to restaurants telling customers to read the menu off their phones or only accepting mobile payments (or even start using services like Paypal) as ways to reduce contact. If that is the case, between the reduced number of tables per night and the technological hurdles will further widen the gap between those who can afford to and those who cannot.
Speaking of the tech, I’m not sure if devices like Ziosk will either flourish or flounder. On one hand, they reduce contact between the guests and the servers. On the other hand, unless properly sanitized between uses, it could potentially spread disease from party to party. Perhaps Ziosk (or someone else?) will develop a mobile app that provides the same services?
Option #3: The Basically Impossible
No one will want to go to restaurants anymore, because everyone will have learned how to cook.
I say this is impossible for a number of reasons. Mainly, as I’ve already noted, people are getting stir crazy and are going to want to be able to get back to going out to restaurants as soon as possible. Also, it seems like many aren’t necessarily learning how to cook (or, more often than not, bake) for the sake of meal planning, but taking it up as a hobby, so the average home cook’s ambitions will probably wane a bit once restaurants start to reopen.
However, many large chains have shown some goodwill in these trying times by releasing some of their recipes to the general public. (Who needed a recipe for Egg McMuffin is beyond me.) And, whether or not it’s actually true, people love to say that food tastes better when you’ve worked for it.
A slightly more realistic take on this may be that, even with servers wearing masks, consumers (Karens aside) may still be wary of congregating in public for extended periods of time. This could result in an increase of fast-casual restaurants, or even just a decrease in demand for courses like appetizers or desserts as guests try to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Who fucking knows, man.
2 thoughts on “What Will the Restaurant Industry Look Like Post-COVID?”
I think there’s an art and respect warranted for public predictions, so…
Banking here on Option #2 and blood in the streets (economic turmoil) through 2021. Many reverberations even after America gets “opened up” once again. Vulture capitalism* picks up. All of that.
Anyone who survives to 2022 will be good.
* At least vulture capitalism is actual capitalism, unlike bailing out Boeing and whoever. Money should’ve gone to the common people.
I still wouldn’t be surprised if we get a little of all 3, ie a bunch of rich people who took up hobby baking decide to open their own bakeries.