What’s coming for restaurants after COVID-19?  This has to be on the mind of every restaurateur, owner, operator and manager right now.  There’s no question that for most restaurants, operators and employees, this is the biggest crisis you’ve ever experienced in your career.  Never before has your very existence been threatened at this level.  We’ve seen and heard endless accounts of people struggling with the challenge of mere survival.  So, what will be the future for restaurants after COVID-19?

The most important thing right now is that we and our families stay safe and healthy above all.  Almost as important as that is that we survive economically.  There is no escaping the challenge of business survival, and many restaurant operators are questioning whether and how their restaurant and the industry will bounce back.

There are programs and resources being made available to assist restaurant operators and employees such as Government income relief programs, the new Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), rent payment deferrals, mortgage payment deferrals and utility discounts and deferrals.  Restaurants Canada has also created a Response Plans Handbook, to help navigate through government announcements and relief measures.  While I applaud the efforts taken to offer assistance, none of this addresses the future of restaurants and the restaurant industry after COVID-19.

What about the future?

The sad truth is that despite all assistance or temporary relief, there is a stiff reality facing the industry moving forward.  Deferred is not the same as free of responsibility.  Mortgage payments, rent and loan payments are going to come due.  With mortgages and loans, many are coming with additional interest that will also have to be paid eventually.  Many of us will be paying interest on our interest.  So, the question remains, how do restaurants bounce back and thrive once we come out of this?  Certainly not by just getting back to the old status quo.

This is not the end.  It may be a new beginning.

You may have read some of the same interviews and articles that I have, predicting that this will be the end of full service dining as we know it.  What a crock of…well, not soup.

Don’t believe it!  Not for a second.

There will always be an appetite for full service restaurants.  Like with any product or service, it’s a simple matter of public demand.  Will there be people that change their habits and possibly their frequency of eating out?  Possibly, yes.  But there’s no escaping the fact that going out to eat is entrenched in our way of life.

Think about all the reasons that people go out to restaurants to eat.  Business meetings, lunch breaks, birthdays, anniversaries, dinner dates, proposals, engagement parties, baby showers, wedding showers, meeting up with friends,  sporting events, etc..  What about travel?  People will not stop travelling, and travelers have to eat.  Some people almost never eat at home.  You all have regular guests that visit multiple times per week.  It’s not likely that everyone will simply stop going out to eat.  In fact, some restaurant goers are likely to make up for lost time, once we get through this.

The next challenge will be starting over, and you will need to make up for lost time, too.

Moving Forward…

There are some important issues that you’re going to need to address, if you haven’t already.

  1. Catching up on lost income. It’s never been more important to consider how to reduce your expenses and increase your sales, preferably through improved efficiencies for both.
  2. Catching up on debt payments including rent/mortgage, taxes, supplier balances, etc.
  3. There are already new health and sanitation requirements for those of you continuing to operate through Covid-19. There are likely to be some that remain when the pandemic is under control, and very possibly some additional standards that come into effect to prevent future threats.  This will affect the way you train your staff and may have associated costs.
  4. Are there aspects of operations that you can look at to protect yourself, at least somewhat, from being as significantly affected (or devastated, for some) financially and operationally in a future crisis?

An examination of the last point, question really, is of ultimate importance.  If you have never closely examined how you do business, from the way you fit into the community right down to how you prepare food and treat your guests & employees, well, there has never been a better time.  This warrants deeper discussion, and more so than ever before, there’s no time like the present.  It might be a good idea to get your team into a virtual meeting and start having that conversation.