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 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.
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.
Strong off-premises capabilities have become the not-so-secret sauce of success for foodservice operators during the COVID-19 crisis. Pizza chains in particular have become delivery powerhouses.