The pandemic hasn’t just shifted the focus to takeout and delivery; it’s driven foodservice down a road of constant twists and turns, with no path back to business as usual. A vaccine is on the horizon, but COVID-19 has forced approximately 17% of U.S. restaurants to close,1 and concerns over its spread continue to have a negative impact on the bottom line. While the holiday season is normally a time when operators can expect a business boost, in 2020 eat, drink and be merry became eat, drink ... and be very careful.
The pandemic-propelled shift to off-premises is reshaping the restaurant landscape, literally, as smaller-footprint stores designed for digital and drive-thru orders emerge. In August 2020, the Mexican food chain Taco Bell served up the hot news of its new store format, Taco Bell Go Mobile, which will cater to customers hungry for the speed and convenience of double drive-thrus, contactless curbside pickup and digital integration.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on off-premises business as major chains and independent operators strive to whip up recipes for success under challenging circumstances. Capacity restrictions, shutdowns and consumer safety concerns may have stalled in-store traffic, but the off-premises revenue engine continues to steer foodservice in the direction of delivery and takeout.
As coronavirus rates fluctuate, one thing holds steady—the need for innovation due to the market’s insatiable appetite for safety, ease and convenience. The new norm is fueled by digital advances, and the road leads to ever-accelerating innovation as foodservice operators navigate the challenges of the pandemic and the shifting needs of the consumer.
The pandemic has propelled the restaurant industry in different directions—some new and unexpected (think social distancing and face masks), others more familiar (the drive-thru, for example). In the case of takeout in general and the drive-thru in particular, "back to basics" has jumpstarted traffic and revved up revenue.