Tight margins and an increasingly competitive landscape may have given the foodservice industry cause for concern year after year, but nothing could have prepared it for the sweeping impact of COVID-19 in 2020. The seismic shift to off-premises channels as restrictions on dine-in service and prolonged suspensions of onsite dining took hold brought a feast of challenges and opportunities, changing the direction of foodservice for years to come.
The roadblocks on the road to reopening continue. As the number of coronavirus cases rises in reopened states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona and others, fear of infection at restaurants seems to be growing at a fever pitch, threatening to grind dine-in services to a halt.
To serve up sales and mitigate the shortfall during the COVID-19 outbreak, foodservice operators have had to think outside of the box. Now, many are thinking outside—as in al fresco—in states and cities where dine-in remains prohibited. And even where dine-in restrictions have eased, al fresco dining still offers a breath of fresh air for consumers eager to dine out—and an opportunity for sales-hungry operators to feed the bottom line.
As government restrictions on restaurant operations loosen, the industry seems to have shifted focus from eating as few losses as possible to feeding the bottom line. Opportunities and challenges abound in this transitional period of social distancing, hypervigilant hygiene, and dependence on delivery and takeout. The “new normal” of modified operations and changing consumer demands is here for the long haul, even as much of it continues to evolve.
As the consumer appetite for better-for-you and functional foodservice continues to grow during the coronavirus crisis, wellness-driven meal delivery can be expected to make more inroads into the market. Jumping on the better-for-you bandwagon seems an essential ingredient in any recipe for off-premises business success.