As the country gradually emerges from the lockdown to embrace what many of us refer to as the ‘new normal’, the food service industry is also preparing to start operations after a long gap of three months. There is a lot at stake for restaurants that have somehow managed to stay afloat through the COVID-19 mayhem and plan to keep their flags flying.
If we’ve learned anything from past experiences, it is that such hard times have always inspired most innovations from businesses. The aftermath of the COVID-19 won’t be any different. And this time, technological transformations, mostly geared towards ‘contactless’ or ‘less-contact’ solutions, will play an overarching role in reshaping businesses and customer behavior.
The good news is, a recent survey conducted by a restaurant marketing company in major metro cities has shown that 75% of the respondents would prefer to dine out in their favourite restaurants once the lockdown is lifted, which is very encouraging!
Perhaps in an effort to reassure citizens who are still weary of returning to normalcy, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya visited MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room) on Lalbagh Road for breakfast on Saturday morning. While one appreciates the gesture but a lot more work needed to be done to support restaurants.
It is the absolute responsibility of food and beverage outlets to implement the highest standards of hygiene and food safety as per guidelines set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to ensure customers and employees are safe. Thermal screening of staff and every customer has become mandatory, as is hand hygiene — sanitiser and/or sink to wash hands. Masks are a must. Social distancing in restaurants means ensuring each person/table is six feet away, and not more than 50 percent of seating capacity is permitted. Disposable menus and disposable paper napkins are recommended.
Since online delivery services have played a huge role in keeping several restaurants from closing down, it makes sense to start here. Whether a fast-casual or fine dining, irrespective of the nature of the establishment, restaurants that did not use this technology before have had to transform their business models overnight to offer delivery services. Some QSRs even had to go on a hiring spree to fulfill a large number of online orders from customers during the lockdown.
This trend is only going to go steady, if not see an upsurge, as customers will now be more cautious of eating out in crowded places after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The concept of ‘Contactless Dining’ is based on eating out with minimal human interaction assisted by digital platforms and the use of accessible technology. From reservations and menus to payment and feedback, a combination of digital and app-based methods using a smartphone is a good way to get started.
Menu engineering will also play an important role as customers become more conscious about what they are eating. It is a process that includes clean food sourcing, better supply chain management and healthy methods of cooking. It is time to switch to shorter menus with a focus on fresh food, seasonal ingredients and produce provenance.
Kiosks are the answer for many. With customers entering their orders on the kiosk—or interacting with the menu entirely on their phone via a scannable QR code on the kiosk—the greatly reduced wait staff can attend to the more urgent tasks.
Some restaurants have even created what we call a synthetic drive-thru using kiosks as a way to reduce foot traffic inside the store. By wheeling the device outside the restaurant, customers can place orders outside, and wait in their cars for the waitstaff to bring their food once ready.In either scenario, there’s a massive benefit to using kiosks: no one has to handle cash—the dirtiest thing in most restaurants. Customers can pay by credit or debit card at a terminal. However, at restaurants where customers like to pay in cash, there are kiosks available that can handle cash, as well.
Back-office automation has been around for years. Ordering, procurement—the days of a manager counting actuals and tallying up what’s needed for an order are long gone, and most restaurants now have systems that will do automatic, predictive ordering for food and liquor
But now we’re seeing automation move into kitchens—and not just quick-service restaurants (QSR), but casual and even fine dining. Kitchen video screens, for example, used to be strictly a QSR staple. Now you can find them in restaurants across the spectrum, being used to improve efficiency and order accuracy.
Of course, automation has other uses, too. In the COVID-19 age, the contactless aspect of automation is one of its major selling points. Consider something like Briggo’s Coffee Robot—it’s a fully automated robotic coffee machine that can create barista-quality cappuccino, flat whites, and other coffee drinks at the rate of 100 per hour. Customers order via their phones and receive a text when their drink is ready. It’s not only a contactless experience, but the Coffee Robot also comes with zero labor costs (other than installation and maintenance).
Another example is 3D-printed food. Take pasta—making it is a very labor-intensive process, and yet you can’t charge much for a bowl of spaghetti bolognese. 3D-printed pasta, however, removes the labor aspect, which can increase profit margins substantially and free up kitchen staff for other tasks.
The promotion of responsible and sustainable dining practices will definitely help in winning back the trust of the patrons. This has been possible because of food aggregators, online delivery platforms, delivery services and cloud kitchens. Some restaurants have adapted well to take advantage of this opportunity in an area of business that is poised for further growth due to the convenience and flexibility it provides customers.
The food service industry and its employees have endured a lot of hardship because of COVID-19 they are now ready to welcome you back with their smiles, warmth and post Covid-19 ready services.