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Blog: Restaurant customers demand safety in a post-COVID-19 future


July 22, 2020
By Vince Sgabellone, Industry Analyst, Canadian Foodservice, NPD Group

Topics

Simply opening the doors will not be sufficient to restore traffic. Perhaps the biggest challenge that restaurants must address to speed up recovery is the shift in consumers’ mindsets brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

recent Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Study reveals that health and safety will be top of mind. Many consumers won’t return to their old restaurant habits until they feel absolutely safe about the social distancing and cleanliness protocols in place at the restaurant. Aside from proper hygiene and sanitation procedures, restaurants must adopt strict practices dedicated to prevent infection. Practices like limiting guest count, wearing masks and gloves, and installing barriers between seats are initiatives that consumers in Western Canada deem just as important as social distancing. Reducing shared contact points is also key.

Developments in the industry

  • Pizza operators have implemented contactless pickup and delivery where product is sealed in boxes directly from the oven, never to be exposed to anyone except the end consumer.
  • Full-service restaurants are transitioning from physical menus to virtual menus, thus eliminating another possible point of infection for guests and staff.
  • Paramount Fine Foods, an Ontario-based chain, is launching Box’d, a fully automated restaurant whereby consumers order and pay for their meals in advance and pick up from a specific cubby in the store without ever coming into contact with service personnel.
  • Digital payment systems ranked as one of the Top 5 safety initiatives by 40 per cent of consumers in the West, according to the Sentiment Study, and the company’s CREST service reported that digital and in-app payments accounted for a larger share of sales in April than cash.

The study also suggests 67 per cent of consumers in the West will wait before visiting a restaurant again even after they reopen. That means off-premise dining occasions will become the main source of meals away from home for the foreseeable future. Since the crisis began, 42% of consumers in the West have used off-premise service channels to access restaurant meals. This will increase to 57% when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Supported by initiatives like Canada Takeout Day that are raising the voice of the entire industry, this trend will only continue into the future.

As the landscape continues to shift, operators will need to be nimble. They will need to effectively respond as looming questions are answered, and tailor their responses in real time.

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