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.
A recent study by JPMorgan Chase & Co., which analyzed data from 30 million Chase cardholders and Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker, found a correlation between higher restaurant spending and spikes in coronavirus infections.1
Of all categories of credit and debit card spending, restaurant spending was the strongest predictor of higher infection rates. In-person restaurant spending was revealed to be “particularly predictive,” according to analyst Jesse Edgerton, who worked on the study.1 Higher spending at supermarkets, on the other hand, predicted a slower spread of the virus.1
Edgerton cautioned that other factors outside of restaurant spending are contributing to the surge in new cases in states with spiking rates.1
In a statement to CNBC, the National Restaurant Association emphasized the importance of shared responsibility for safety: “It is irresponsible to pin the rise on a single industry. Restaurants have historically operated with highly regulated safety protocols based on the FDA’s Food Code and now have taken new steps to meet social distancing guidelines required by state and federal officials. We all have responsibility for wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing.”1
Another sticking point may be patrons' fear of proximity to other patrons. An April survey by Inspire PR Group found that the most significant trust issue consumers have is not with restaurants but with other customers who may carry the virus through their own lack of caution.2
In light of the recent surge in cases in the reopened states and the findings of the JPMorgan study, operators may want to consider separating tables by more than 6 feet, if they’re not already doing so.
Next Course: Taking Action Against a New Wave of Coronavirus Cases
In an opinion piece for Nation’s Restaurant News, Joe Kefauver, managing partner of the public affairs consultancy Align Public Strategies, argues that the coronavirus outbreak has proven pre-pandemic prognosticators like him correct: The biggest threat to the industry is “the loss of public trust and confidence in the safety of the food [supply] chain.”3
Kefauver admonishes the industry to take swift and sweeping action at this critical juncture in the outbreak. “Let’s stop playing small-ball arguing about dining room percentages and social-distancing restrictions and limits on gathering numbers,” he writes. “Instead, let’s lead on mandating masks in every restaurant regardless of state, lead on mandated testing, on sanitation improvements, on PPE, on alcohol delivery certification and countless other issues.”3
So what can restaurant operators do right now to prepare for a second wave of coronavirus? Disaster planning expert Patrick Hardy advises that they compile a “lessons learned” plan from the initial outbreak.4 Identifying solutions based on improving upon and adapting your current approach is key. “Restaurants don’t have to reinvent the wheel: they just have to be agile and honest with themselves,” he explains.4 “Restaurants that maintain their mission of being flexible will be the most successful.”4
To help ensure your menu adapts to the demands of the market in the age of COVID-19, Mondelēz International Foodservice offers world-class culinary expertise and trusted brand ingredients. Reach out below to learn about our menu solutions, or just share your thoughts on the challenges facing foodservice today.
1 Lucas, Amelia, This chart shows the link between restaurant spending and new cases of coronavirus, CNBC, June 26, 2020
2 Klein, Danny, “It’s Not Restaurants Customers Fear. It’s Other People,” FSR magazine, May 2020
3 Kefauver, Joe, “Opinion: The restaurant industry is facing a fundamental trust issue,” Nation’s Restaurant News, July 1, 2020
4 Fantozzi, Joanna, “How restaurants should prepare for a second wave of COVID-19, according to a disaster planning expert,” Nation’s Restaurant News, July 2, 2020