7 minute read 14 May 2020
Woman paying with NFC technology

Beyond COVID-19: How to navigate a new normal enabled by technology

By Audi Rowe

EY Americas Consulting Digital Strategy and Transformation Senior Manager

Passionate about innovation, emerging technologies and exceptional experiences. Curious about generational differences and mega trends. Enjoy exploring new restaurants, foreign places and ski slopes.

7 minute read 14 May 2020

What hospitality and restaurant operators need to consider to navigate the post-COVID-19 reality

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the restaurant, food service and hospitality industries, leaving many business owners analyzing if they will ever reopen. According to Hospitality Tech,¹ 97% of US restaurants were impacted by mandated dine-in closures, and The New York Times predicts that 75% of independent restaurants that have been closed will never reopen.² Efforts to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic are well underway, but restaurant operators agree that COVID-19 may have forever changed the industry, redefining the dining experience as we know it.

As hospitality leaders and restaurateurs are navigating through uncertainty and complexity in the immediate, they will need to start planning for the future and a new landscape. The industry is transforming dramatically and adopting the right technology solutions can prepare restaurateurs for what’s next. Customer-facing software, self-service technology and digital payment platforms can be adopted now so businesses are equipped with the right tools to adapt to the post–COVID-19 new normal.

Keep customers engaged with new brand experiences and digital channels

Months of quarantine and social distancing may have created more permanent behavior changes in the way people shop, dine and socialize. A recent survey conducted by RTi Research found that, of the 31% of consumers who had food delivered to their homes for the first time, 66% said they would keep doing so after the global pandemic.³ As a result of these changes in behavior, restaurants will likely experience slow traffic upon reopening, requiring them to think creatively about driving sales back into the business while meeting customers’ evolved expectations.

How can the industry help alleviate consumer stress and anxiety in the post-COVID-19 world? Restaurant and hospitality operations must lean on technology and digital engagement channels to drive traffic back to restaurants, attract new audiences and create innovative ways of delivering dining experiences.

Behavior changes in the way people shop, dine and socialize

66%

of consumers who had food delivered for the first time said they would keep doing so after the global pandemic. 3

Rather than focusing on isolation, restaurants can bring new experiences to their customers through unique storytelling and brand-sponsored experiences on digital channels. For example, chefs may consider livestreaming weekly cooking lessons to re-create popular dishes on video streaming platforms. Restaurant groups can produce podcast series where they can tell the story behind their brands and people, or create spotlight episodes following members of their team going through a typical day.

Diversify product offerings and invest in infrastructure

As work-from-home restrictions lift, restaurants won’t be able to simply weather the longer-term shift and economic recovery — they will need to innovate on their offerings and establish new capabilities for long-term value creation. Hospitality operations and restaurants should consider diversifying their product offerings and enhancing their direct-to-consumer options by introducing ready-to-eat entrées, meal kits and branded pantry items that consumers can buy directly from their business’ website.

As the food industry moves through the pandemic and into the new normal, businesses may want to reassess their use of third-party vendors, including having multiple delivery platforms, and consider investing in their own platform and infrastructure for the long-term. Integrating capabilities in-house may not only be a cost-saving; it can provide businesses an opportunity to enhance their guest experiences through improved communication and customer relationship management.

Consider innovative ways for crowd control

Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds for Saturday brunch and coming face-to-face with a host who has interacted with multiple parties throughout the day may soon become a thing of the past. Could restaurants do better at controlling incoming traffic by operating in a reservations-only world? The ability to drive order in the front of the house and better forecast sales, resources and manpower needs will require even the most traditional businesses to implement new technology. Hospitality and restaurant owners should seek to partner now with third-party reservation platforms to build new capabilities that may address their needs.

It is also time for restaurants to rethink the reservation check-in experience. By allowing customers to enter their seating and dining preferences ahead of time through reservation apps and by placing contactless technology, such as digital displays, at the entrance, business owners can offer their customers a safe check-in experience. They can scan their unique QR code to alert the staff of their arrival, without people gathering in the host area.

In the new normal, customers may no longer want to exchange checks, cash, pens and credit cards with their server out of fear of passing germs. These concerns are driving the quick adoption of digital-payment solutions. According to RTi Research, 30% of survey respondents used contactless payment methods for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started, and of these people, 70% indicated they would keep using this technology. To reduce physical contact between customers and servers, full-service restaurants may consider adopting handheld point-of-sale solutions and encourage the use of mobile-payment apps. Similarly, quick-service restaurants should consider enhancing their current point-of-sale systems with software that allows customers to remotely pay their bar tab, coffee or meals from their phone.

Adoption of digital-payment solutions

70%

of survey respondents who used contactless payment methods for the first time since the pandemic started said they would keep doing so afterward. 4

Place health and safety at the center of your operation

There is no question that COVID-19 will call for governments and agencies to enforce rigid sanitation, health and hygiene guidelines. Restaurants must also drive their own health and safety efforts to demonstrate both to their customers and their employees that their well-being is not just a consideration — it is at the forefront of their operations.

Restaurants will need to reevaluate their existing guidelines and standard operating procedures and invest in the right set of tools to deliver on safety expectations. Measures, such as the use of infrared body-temperature scanners on employees before they start their shift and facial-recognition technology to clock in and out, will provide relief to all parties. Traditional restaurants using pen and paper to take guest orders may consider investing in a new kitchen display system and individual hand-held point-of-sale systems, not only to drive more agile kitchen operations but to limit the number of people exposed to germs and viral agents. To reduce long lines in front of cashiers, quick-service restaurants should consider implementing self-ordering kiosks at some of their busiest locations to create a safer distance between customers and back-of-the-house employees.

Similarly, customers will be on the lookout for sanitation changes. Restaurants will need to begin implementing new standards for cleaning and disinfecting rooms or areas and appointing new positions, such as an on-site medical and sanitation supervisor. They also may consider developing new waitstaff training to focus on low-touch customer service and minimal contact with food and surfaces, a dramatic shift from the way servers do their job today. In the same manner, clear protocols to assure the safety of food supplies, deliveries and storage, as well as how to identify and report suspected problems, will need to be in place before reopening. Digital tracking, once a nice-to-have for businesses, is now a must-have to govern and support compliance and sanitation.

Special thanks to Juan Carlos Falquez and Lindsay Garfinkel for their contributions to this article.

  • Show article references

    ¹ Restaurant Customer Transactions Declined by 42% in Week Ending March 29: Research,” Hospitality Technology, https://hospitalitytech.com/restaurant-customer-transactions-declined-42-week-ending-march-29-research, 9 April 2020. 

    ² Kim Severson and David Yaffe-Bellany, “Independent Restaurants Brace for the Unknown,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/dining/local-restaurants-coronavirus.html, 20 March 2020.

    ³ Daniel Banta, “Here's How Consumers are Responding to COVID-19,” Payments Journal, https://www.paymentsjournal.com/heres-how-consumers-are-responding-to-covid-19/, 31 March 2020. 

    ⁴ Banta, “Here's How Consumers are Responding to COVID-19.”

Summary

In this time of uncertainty, businesses in the food and hospitality industry need to assess how they should manage in the new normal, post–COVID-19. The Adaptability Index tool is an easy-to-use diagnostic tool to understand how resilient your business in this crisis, across eight key areas. To learn more and get your adaptability score, contact your EY account team or local EY office.

About this article

By Audi Rowe

EY Americas Consulting Digital Strategy and Transformation Senior Manager

Passionate about innovation, emerging technologies and exceptional experiences. Curious about generational differences and mega trends. Enjoy exploring new restaurants, foreign places and ski slopes.