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Restaurant Sector: Thriving in the New Normal

Authored by Michael Pacini

January 20, 2021

We all should be proud of the restaurant industry leaders and professionals who have come together to share new ideas and best practices through their many thoughtful articles and informative webinars.  Providing specific insights on menu size to technology innovations in use, for example, are not typically topics industry players openly converse about with their competitors.  That said, the pandemic has rallied many to help each other though this unprecedented moment in history.


Without question, COVID has forced a tectonic shift in conventional restaurant business models, giving rise to new or expanded business practices, including curb-side take-out and home delivery.  These expanded services are likely to become part of the new normal for many in the industry, which previously may not have offered these services prior to the pandemic.  Nonetheless, the human need for “experiential” dining represents a great opportunity for on-trend restaurant concepts which are prepared to capitalize on highly constrained consumer demand for on-premises dining once the U.S. vaccination program gains greater traction.


A recent January 2021 Forbes article noted, “The fact is that people love going out to eat and are dying to do so right now.  There is a pent-up demand that will explode onto the restaurant scene by spring and summer at every level.”   I could not agree more.


Once the population is largely vaccinated and/or herd immunity is achieved, I believe in-restaurant dining will once again become all the rage.  For those restaurant companies that dramatically expanded off-premises sales, holding on to those sales as the delivery and curb-side bubble eases and returning to pre-crisis on-premises restaurant sales, will be keys to achieving dynamic, sustainable growth well into the future.


Certainly, the impact of COVID has not been uniform, and, as a result, the various restaurant categories will experience different recoveries.  Prior to the pandemic, many QSR’s and fast casual concepts relied on off-premise strategies to drive sales and that trend has accelerated.  That said, what about sports bars, casual dining and polished casual dining?  I am of the opinion that those who have adapted during the crisis by embracing off-premise food delivery should be poised for a significant and rapid recovery when consumers race back into restaurants. This should continue for several years until independent operators come back into the equation and dining options once again abound.


So once this crisis has passed, do not revert to business as it once was.  Rather seize every opportunity to solidify progress on restaurant design and footprint, menu design, expanded food delivery practices and creative consumer digital engagement strategies that differentiate your restaurant concepts and define your highly personalized, experiential dining value to your customers. 


Whether your individual restaurant concept experiences a “V” or “U” recovery, the industry as a whole will be stronger as a result of the crisis and consumer demand for experiential dining – in all its forms – will be the primary growth factor. 


Stay tuned for drilldowns into various industries in future articles. In the meantime, heartily embrace bold new ideas and welcome change and reinvention.  Live it up!

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