The COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes in the restaurant industry. Unfortunately, the expected to be temporary closures of restaurants in the early days of the pandemic have led to permanent closures. As of July 2020, ABC News reported that “60% of the restaurants that temporarily closed due to the pandemic have since shuttered for good.” Additionally, as early as May it was predicted the economic impact of these closures was nearly $120 billion. Additional impacts from the closures and modified restaurant re-openings are detailed below.
INNOVATIONS and CHANGES TO MENUS AND OFFERINGS
The inability to serve customers for dine-in and/or at reduced capacity has led the restaurant industry to come up with new ways to meet the needs of their audiences.
- Offering Family Meals or Meal Bundles
- Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is “promoting family meals to go or for delivery.”
- Denny’s offers family packs of many of their popular combos.
- Separate from their catering trays, Chick-Fil-A is now offering family meals (for pickup or delivery in some areas).
- California Pizza Kitchen offers customized take & bake options.
- Panera introduced a meal kit for a family of four.
- Smashburger has developed ‘take and make’ options.
- New Delivery and Pick Up Options — many restaurants have taken initiative to increase the ways that their food gets to customers. Things like Contactless Delivery, Curbside Rapid Ordering & Pick-Up, and Drive-Thru are now available at many restaurants that did not offer the options previously
- Reduced menu choices — partly due to staffing, and in part due to supply issues, many restaurants have reduced their menu offerings.
EMPLOYEE AND PATRON SAFETY
Approximately 43% of business owners (including restaurant owners) state that keeping their employees safe during the pandemic is “keeping them up at night.” Some protocols introduced in restaurants as customers return are:
- Reduced seating capacity — local health guidelines will dictate the number of patrons allowed in a restaurant but experts predict that reduced seating should be expected for some time.
- Automated payments — many restaurant visitors will see the installation of machines to accept payments. The machines “drastically cut down on person-to-person contact and only need to be wiped down after use to ensure that the virus doesn’t linger on the machinery.”
- Wearing masks and protective equipment — both employees and patrons are advised to wear masks and employees are often wearing gloves to protect themselves in many locales around the country.
- Temperature Checks — many restaurants have implemented mandatory temperature checks before a party can be seated inside the restaurant.
IMPACT ON FOOD PRICES
A recent article in the Monthly Labor Review from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reviews the impacts to “price changes for food categories within the import/export price indexes, producer price indexes, and consumer price indexes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The US enacted a nationwide state of emergency in March which effectively changed how Americans consumed food both at restaurants and at home.
- “The downward impact on food demand and export prices began in January and accelerated, as countries closed businesses and kept people home. Demand for some key exports such as soybeans and other grains remained steady because these products are used for animal feed rather than household consumption; however, there was a reduction in demand for other food products, especially meat.”
- “The reduction in world meat demand, especially from Asia, resulted in declining U.S. export meat prices. The dollar value of U.S. exports of meat products and meat packaging products fell 22.5% from March to May 2020.”
- “Export meat prices decreased 1.8% in February 2020, then edged up 0.3% in March and then declined 4% in April 2020.”
- “From mid-April 2020 onward, the effects of the pandemic began to accelerate in the United States. Outbreaks in a number of U.S. meat processing facilities led to a domestic meat shortage, causing a subsequent increase in demand for imports. In turn, import meat prices rose 16% in May 2020, the largest 1-month jump since the index was first published monthly in December 1993. Export meat prices also rose, advancing 5% in May 2020 as less meat was available for export. Despite most U.S. meat processing facilities coming back online, import meat prices continued to rise in June 2020, advancing a further 8.1% as demand from Asia slowly increased with countries reopening. In contrast, export meat prices fell 0.4%.”
- “Lobster prices decreased because of the reduction in demand from restaurants and the cruise industry, which was effectively shut down.”
- Prices for food purchased outside the home (in restaurants) rose during the first three months of the pandemic as seen in the index chart below.