With in-house traffic suffering a virtual free-fall due to the coronavirus for the past few weeks, COVID-19 restaurants are now reeling from a new mandate designed to eliminate potentially dangerous behaviors such as congregating in public places.

The secondary blows come as the bar & restaurant industries react to state-issued orders from (so far) Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Washington to suspend restaurant dine-in service, providing only takeout and delivery.

This development is based on the tenant that a restaurant dine-in shutdown forces “social distancing” through “contactless” delivery options which will help slow the spread of the virus.

Because of the no contact delivery options that are being rolled out amid the COVID-19 restaurants fears, the importance of keeping your kitchen cookin’ in spite of dining area closures, diminished foot traffic and social distancing is paramount.

It has never been more critical for COVID-19 restaurants and brand leaders in the space to get this right. Your food has to display seamlessly designed UX to be accessed digitally — and deliverable to your customers wherever they are inclined to meet. (home, office, etc.).

Some winners and losers are going to emerge from this, especially if your restaurant is a technology laggard. Innovative early adopter and enterprise level brands will emerge in a stronger position due to their ability to leverage digital ordering to provide an easy, convenient customer experience.

Those brands that planned ahead and have a solution in place to optimize this “social distancing” food economy will emerge with a stronger brand promise and business outcome. This will revolutionize the priorities for all COVID-19 restaurants from QSR to fast casual and beyond.

Specific measures to improve the customer’s “no contact” digital experience from order to delivery — and customer interactions along the way — will be the new normal. The social distancing food economy is here and I suspect, here to stay.

With mandated restaurant & bar closures and supply chain woes, the question is: How fast and how serious are you about being a brand that manages to win or maybe just to survive in the rapidly changing food-sphere?

What we are now seeing are top-performing entities proactively educating the public on protocols created to alleviate rising apprehensions and outright fears.

For example, Chipotle Mexican Grill is offering free delivery, and Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell) is working with partners to prepare for the huge influx demand for digital online ordering and delivery.

Domino’s Pizza has launched a “contactless doorstep drop-off delivery option,” and Freebirds World Burrito is promising that deliveries will include a “tamper resistant bag seal” in addition to digital enhancements for pickup and delivery options.

Online food ordering & delivery will only go up as people follow the guidelines of social distancing.

— Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

So, now that operators have no foot-traffic, boosting off-premise sales with a full focus on digital channels is the only way to mitigate potential financial disaster.

“COVID-19 will have an inevitable impact on many restaurant chains, obviously,” said Restaurant Business Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Maze. “While they can certainly regain some sales through takeout and delivery, fast casual and QSR chains are in a far better position than those with no guest digital experience.”

Prepare for the new food economy and put these “must haves” on your to-do list:

  • Easy to use & efficient direct ordering software with applicable third-party integrations
  • No cash = no touches!
  • All food sold should/will need to be packaged for take-out and/or delivery
  • Assurances of cleanliness and expert preparation in all phases of operations – your best customers need to know what you are doing to keep the brand promise
  • In-house delivery services if your delivery partner can’t keep up with your kitchen.

Changes and disruptions to traditional restaurant relationships have officially started.  The way brands must digitally engage with customers is more important than ever for survival.

Restaurants that want to deepen relationships and revenues with patrons have to provide a digital guest experience that they love, period. The capacity of the dining room just became an analog feature of the digitized dining ecosystem. 

“The virus is already hitting many well-known independent restaurateurs,” said Maze. “And it’s going to kill a lot of smaller and midsized chains that were struggling long before the virus ever made its way into the country. The time to act is now.”