Successful owners and operators have pivoted and adopted newer technologies, and improved communication with guests and audiences

A Return to Dining Out: What It's Taken To Refill Rooms in the COVID EraOver the course of the pandemic, bars and restaurants across the state —many of them community staples—shuttered their doors, casualties of the economic chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the upheaval, however, nimble and versatile restaurant and bar operators have managed to implement creative ways to keep their guests and audiences engaged and retain loyal patrons.

According to industry reports from the National Restaurant Association and insights from the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, nearly half of diners in 2020 were not frequenting restaurants as often as they would have liked—both for carryout or dining at an establishment. After nearly three years of a pandemic that shuttered restaurants, forced closures and limited availability of dining in general, those numbers are certainly much higher—and giving no indication of slowing. The foodservice industry is forecast to reach nearly $900 billion in sales in 2022. By comparison, industry sales in pre-pandemic 2018 were close to $800 billion. Demand has been another key indicator of what’s to come.

Meeting the Challenges of an Evolving Industry

Not only are diners returning to dining rooms and bars, but they are also finding themselves more comfortable ordering carryout or delivery. As establishments and operators have gotten increasingly savvier in terms of making their goods available for dining off-premise, it has translated to increased sales. Third-party delivery services, and even some small businesses delivering meals themselves, have expanded the radius of a restaurant’s reach. Curbside pickup has grown by leaps and bounds, as has the explosion in online ordering and mobile payment options.

Supply chain and labor shortages have proven to be a challenge for operators, though many have combatted these issues with a nimble mentality and by adopting newer technologies and processes. Dedicated to-go areas help expedite practices and allow customers to receive services with more ease, as does increased outdoor seating and even robot-server options. Technology truly has helped establishments in their accessibility. And after all, accessibility breeds demand.

As more workers return to offices, the more potential lunch-goers or general diners are expected to be seen. Further, alcohol-to-go or “social zones” have been an additional helping hand when it comes to keeping alcohol-dependent businesses alive.

Staying Nimble

What we’re seeing from our clients at Marx Layne is that, generally, as crowds have begun to not-so-slowly refill restaurants, it has been the operators who approached the pandemic with a flexible mindset that have continued to meet the challenges of an evolving industry.

New restaurants have begun opening, fewer establishments are closing their doors for the final time, and people are once again flooding social media feeds with amateur food photos. Time will not heal all wounds, but above all else, humans are social creatures and have shown a strong willingness to return en masse to their comfortable habits. Clever restaurant owners and operators have maintained their audiences via their numerous channels, maintained guest loyalty and increased communication with patrons—which inevitably will have proven to be the differentiator when all the diners return.