Article written by:
Brett Buehler, CPA
Manager, Assurance & Business Advisory Services

In the new “world” of COVID-19 in which we are all currently operating, businesses – restaurants especially – are faced with the challenging task of remaining solvent while doing less. As difficult as this may seem, restaurants are quickly developing new strategies and product offerings in order to stay open and profitable.

Let us discuss what is currently working for operators, what may become obsolete after the pandemic, as well as new strategies operators are both researching and considering that may become more prominent as we move out of the pandemic and into the “new normal.”

What appears to be here is likely to stay:

The world is continuing to make strides in fighting COVID-19; however, it appears restaurant operations will not be completely back to normal in the near future. The following are new strategies and product offerings that are likely to stay:

  • Curbside pickup and delivery: Curbside pickup will become part of virtually every full-service operation. The development of new mobile apps will help companies create a “zero-contact” environment for patrons and staff throughout the ordering, payment, communication and pickup process.
  • Family meals and meal kits: Family meal bundles will become a standard for many brands, but it will be limited to the most popular items. Meal kits provide the consumer with the opportunity to save money while having fun creating and cooking signature dishes from their favorite restaurants.
  • Mobile platforms and apps: QR code menus, mobile ordering, reservation apps, mobile rewards, menu bundling apps, and community support programs are all ways in which mobile technology is being used to help restaurants.
  • Core menus: In order to maximize margins, restaurants have moved away from specials and one-off items in favor of focusing on core menus. This also allows for increased relationships with suppliers helping to keep food costs lower and streamline labor costs.
  • Increased sanitation protocols: Even after we move away from the current operating environment, new sanitation standards will most likely remain. Simply having an “employees must wash hands” sign will no longer be satisfactory. Masks, latex gloves and sanitation stations will likely continue to be used moving forward. Additionally, operators will identify ways to maximize cash flows from their floor plans with an increased emphasis on sanitation and safety.
  • Maximizing seating capacity: With reduced capacity constraints on indoor dining, operators are reimagining how indoor dining can be maximized while being compliant with sanitation and safety standards as well as expanding outdoor dining strategies. With cooler weather on its way, operators are looking to enclosures and heating mechanisms to maintain or further expand additional dining capacity.

What may be going away?

Not every new strategy or practice will be staying with us after the pandemic. Deep discounts that were required to drive business, as well as self-service and other practices where safety and sanitation are harder to track, could be receiving a facelift or going away entirely.

  • Deep marketing discounts and “free” services: As operators continue to make adjustments to their operations and learn how to maximize cash flows under the new conditions, the idea of offering free services and deep discounts (e.g. 50% and even greater) will be slowly phased out.
  • Self-service stations: Existing self-serve condiment and beverage stations, along with touch-screen ordering platforms, will need to be modified. We will likely see beverage machines moved behind the counter or redesigned to operate touch-free.

Looking into the future:

The restaurant industry has always seen innovation as a necessity and within the new environment, it has become more important than ever. Below are innovations and tactics we have seen within the industry, and our own client base, that are in development or currently being used to succeed in the new restaurant ”norm.”

  • Streamlining labor and the elimination of labor “specialists”: Cross-training employees has always been seen as an efficient tactic and continues to be important given the current environment.
  • New mobile apps: Mobile marketing and operations continue to be key for companies moving through the pandemic. Advancements in app capability and the development of new apps specific to the industry will continue to have a large impact on the operating environment.
  • Automation and robotics: New developments in technology will help reduce both product and labor costs by automating tasks. White Castle is currently testing Flippy, an automated burger-flipping robot that has helped reduce food waste while improving customer satisfaction by providing a consistent product at faster speeds. It does not appear that the restaurant industry will be “taken over by robots” anytime soon, but innovations like Flippy are the future of the restaurant industry.

There is always fear when it comes to change and adversity but the restaurant community has always been innovative, adaptable and forward-thinking. As companies continue to develop new technologies, strategies and practices to succeed in the current environment, we are anxious to learn what other developments become part of the “new normal.”

In upcoming articles, our team will more extensively explore the aforementioned items, provide insight as to related accounting changes, and communicate new advancements as they are discovered. Should you have any questions, please reach out to Brett Buehler or other members of GBQ’s Restaurant Services team.

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