Restaurants In A Time Of Crisis

In this tough environment of coronavirus, it can be heartening to remember the central role restaurants have always had in the lives of their customers.

What is going to happen now? It’s the question for any restaurant owner as more states restrict their ability to do business. In our home state of New York (and other states with different versions of mandatory lockdowns) restaurants have been exempted as ‘essential’ businesses and allowed to remain open for Pickup/Takeout and Curbside.

Recognizing restaurants as essential reflects the traditional role restaurants have always had. The name itself comes from the term ‘restaurateur’ which is a French verb, meaning ‘to restore’. The earliest modern restaurants grew in Paris, where they offered people a place to eat and often rest - to restore. These restaurants were themselves off-shoots of caterers - which were widespread at a time when most Parisian apartments lacked kitchens.

French restaurants were actually considered controversial (and faced legal trouble) at a time when different types of foods were prepared in specialty shops run by members of protected guilds. Bakeries are one example. But back then several types of individual shops prepared or sold one specialty only: roasted meats, sauces, soups, wine, ale, and more. The original restaurants were sort of like the Amazon of their day, allowing an individual to get everything in one place and - by sitting down to eat - right away.

The English word ‘pub’, likewise, is derived from the English term ‘public houses’. Which is to say that a pub was one of the few spots a person could go and hang out outside of their own home. And they certainly did. As far back as 1577 it is estimated there there were about 17,000 alehouses, 2,000 inns and 400 taverns throughout England and Wales. On a per-person basis at the time, that would equate to one pub for every 200 persons.

Looking back a bit helps us look forward. All restaurant owners are wondering what kind of business can be done now. Our early data does show that there is still demand. More adults and children are at home and, despite full pantries, it looks like many people want the simple joy of having the comfort foods they are used to, especially when they do not have to do the shopping, work or cleanup.

We’ve seen quite a few restaurants make modifications to their service and want to highlight a few popular changes.

• Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Curbside and our Pickup Ping ordering have exploded in use.

• Many restaurants have gone down to much smaller menus - many places with selective menus of between 20-30 items.

• People will altered diets (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan) have the hardest time keeping on course - so demand for these items from restaurants has remained very robust.

• As people are staying home and waking up later, dining times are changing. The order pattern for every day looks more like a weekend - with a longer, later lunch period. Many restaurants are altering their hours of operation and dayparts to suit.

Observationally, these are also some ideas that we think are worth pursuing:

• Many households will likely be looking to economize. We have noticed that lower-priced locations and items are seeing increases in relative demand. Higher-priced locations should consider a selection of simpler, less expensive items.

• Families are eating more together and including kids in meals (like lunch) where kids are normally in school. We have seen a few restaurants provide (and price) ‘family’ meals or items for two or more people.

• Even if people are eating most meals at home, it seems they still appreciate a touch of hospitality in their day.

We’re seeing increased ‘snacking’ - small orders at off hours, particularly of non-meal items like sweets, drinks, and similar. Restaurants can consider a ‘Snack’ menu. And they may also want to consider that items like sweets or desserts may be emotionally important to customers.

Each restaurant is different but we hope each of our customers (and prospective ones) can make the needed, temporary changes to fit their business into the opportunities available now. Our service, features and staff remain focused on helping them do just that. And keep the faith that helping to meet your own customers needs is a skill that they’ll always value, respect - and thank you for.

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