New or temporary strategies for foodservice operators?

Graphic courtesy of Datassential

New York City, where I live, entered Phase 1 of its reopening on 8 June — one of the last cities in the United States (and possibly globally) to do so. Our Phase 1 includes construction, manufacturing, wholesale, and curbside pick-up for retail, but not foodservice. Within foodservice, it is still take-out (pick up or delivery) only but more operators are beginning to reopen weekly. I walk around my “extended neighbourhood” in the city daily to see which coffeehouses, cafés and restaurants have reopened and what safety protocols they have in place. Aside from take-out/pick-up only, many have been accepting cashless payments only.

Many local coffee shops/chains throughout NYC closed when the stay-at-home directive was enacted in March. However, one nearby coffeehouse remained open during the Covid-19 pandemic, with baristas wearing gloves and masks and allowing one to two customers in the store at the same time — credit cards and cash were both accepted. Most Dunkin’ outlets remained open with limited hours. Starbucks Coffee initially reduced store hours but by the end of March, all NYC locations were closed (nationwide, drive-thru locations remained open). By April, several Starbucks located by hospitals within NYC reopened with orders being placed by mobile app only and with limited hours. In May, more Starbucks stores reopened, again mobile orders only and with limited hours.

However, beginning the first week of June, Starbucks customers in NYC (and maybe in other US and international cities as well) could order their beverages in person (one customer allowed into the store at a time, but only about three feet into the store as there are barriers preventing full access) and pay via app, credit card or cash. Several of the baristas I spoke with expressed some concerns about handling people’s phones, credit cards and especially cash (all were wearing protective masks and gloves). It is a valid concern, however, grocery stores, pharmacies and many restaurants have been accepting credit cards and cash throughout the entire pandemic.

Within the foodservice channel, sanitation and separation are critical during the Covid-19 and moving forward. Foodservice-focused market researcher Datassential reports that creating a dedicated pick-up area saves customers the stress of having to navigate their biggest worry: other customers. “This has been the one of the most successful strategies for operators.”

In a recent One Table survey, Datassential asked foodservice operators, “During the Covid-19 restrictions, what is working well with your current takeout and delivery system (among restaurants offering takeout or delivery)? Of those polled:

53% — are implementing increased sanitation practices

51% — are creating separate pick-up area

36% — are maintaining social distancing between staff

36% — are setting up a system to create distance between customers

22% — were/are transitioning to online ordering

19% — are adding tamper-proof seals/measures

18% —are transitioning to using third-party apps for ordering

15% — are switching to new packaging that is easier to sanitize/safer and/or reheat

10% — are using tools to make forecasting number and type of orders easier

Gloves, masks, and safety training will be the new normal for the time being. Foodservice operators around the world are adapting to this new normal and are ready to make the changes necessary to keep employees and customers safe. In its survey, Datassential also asked foodservice operators, “Are you planning to implement any of the following safety measures to protect employees?” Per the respondents:

80% — are providing employees gloves

79% — are providing employees masks

56% — are adding additional employee safety training

53% — are instituting social distancing within the workspace

46% — are daily employee temperature checks

39% — are installing clear coverings at registers to provide a barrier

While foodservice operators seem to be more than willing to do what is necessary to protect employees (and customers), some new strategies might be less permanent and more so temporary. For example, although many restaurants, cafés and coffee shops are offering free delivery today, its long-term viability doubtful (per Datassential, this is especially true for full-service restaurants, many of whom didn’t have a strong delivery presence in place before Covid-19):

44% — are offering free delivery

56% — are not offering free delivery

Among those currently offering free delivery:

50% — say free delivery is sustainable

50% — say free delivery is not sustainable

For many foodservice operators, curbside pick-up is new, and according to Datassential, it is here to stay. “Almost all operators had infrastructure for some kind of take-out, but curbside’s safety benefits have made it the hot option for pick-up in the time of social distancing. Most operators who have added it plan to keep the option.”

Datassential’s survey found that 54% are offering order ahead and pick-up curbside as a new service (76% offering as new or existing service) and 66% will continue offering when restrictions are lifted (of those who started offering as a new service). See statistics in the image above.

What strategies are here to stay, and which are temporary, remains to be seen. I am certain though, as more coffee shops, cafés and restaurants reopen with new safety and social distancing measures in place, lines and wait times will be longer, so patience will be key.

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