5 ways to help operators adapt to a new dining experience

Over the last several months, the foodservice industry has faced enormous challenges and uncertainty. From financial pressures to changing regulations to employee and customer safety, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us all to adapt.

If there is one thing we know, it is how resilient and passionate this industry is – and has always been. As we begin to think about recovery and moving forward, we are seeing a surge of creativity across the foodservice spectrum. Despite the unknowns that still lay ahead, businesses are leaning into change and finding new or different ways to meet customer needs.

Here are the 5 ways operators are adapting and how foodservice manufacturers can help.

Delivering options

Anyone in the foodservice industry knows how important pickup and delivery are for survival right now. Operators are testing floorplans, implementing cashless payment methods and creating their own delivery apps versus relying on third-party services. According to Datassential, a Chicago-based market research firm for the food industry, “81% of operators say they have added new online ordering or pre-pay functionality during COVID-19.” However, the future may include other technology options like ordering kiosks, delivery robots, QR code menus and even pickup cubbies.

For manufacturers, this is a key time to reach out and help your customers find creative solutions to support their recovery. This can include delivery packaging innovations, versatile products to scale back inventory and ways to increase sanitation and safety.

Rethinking what works

While we can’t deny the hardships and hurdles of this pandemic, we can look toward the opportunities that are stemming from it. One of those being the chance for operators to evaluate and rethink their space or business model.

Some restaurants are featuring new layouts with separate cook, staging, prep and pickup zones. Others are shifting to ghost kitchens for delivery only. And many are looking at new revenue streams by offering meal kits, groceries, alcohol and whatever else diners crave. This means operators are looking for clever ways to utilize their current space and improve the dining experience on- or off-premise.

Investing in technology

The trend toward labor-saving technologies isn’t new but with the current circumstances, many businesses are weighing the costs. Smart technologies can help cut down on touchpoints and make it easier to limit the number of employees and customers coming into contact with each other. They also can be a cost-effective way to simplify managing increasingly complex operations by lowering labor, food and energy costs.

Beyond hard-working combi-ovens, conveyor ovens, automated ordering kiosks and smart blast chillers, there also are remote monitoring capabilities that can help pinpoint issues earlier and help reduce overall costs.

Getting creative with budgets

According to Datassential, “areas where most foodservice operators would like help from manufacturers and distributors are new products and solutions that increase sanitation and safety and purchasing discounts or rebates.”

It can be hard for businesses to think about making new investments, especially now. So, work with operators through this process. For example, leasing will become a much more prevalent financing option as operators look for flexibility.

Staying connected

Connect with industry peers to get advice or tap into available resources like NAFEM’s COVID-19 resource library. Listen for new products and tools in the market and talk to reps or distributors about ways to help your customers overcome current challenges. We are all in this together – navigating what comes next.