www.southwestfoodservice.com | June - July 2021

Restaurants Focus on Vaccination Policy, More Tech, Outdoor Dining

Our Association’s State Affairs VP shares his insights on a post-pandemic industry.

Mike Whatley, the National Restaurant Association’s vice president of State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy says his team is engaging state and local governments to work with us and state restaurant associations across the country as the industry emerges from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent Quick Bites podcast episode, he highlighted three trends to follow.

Restaurants are boosters for vaccinations
During the past few weeks, we've seen vaccination rates go up significantly as coronavirus cases go down. Right now, we're in a position where governments feel they can loosen restrictions and allow life to start getting back to normal.

But there's still work to be done, particularly on the vaccine front. Restaurants are playing a critical role here, and it's turning into a great collaboration.

As federal, state, and local governments encourage people to get vaccinated, some restaurants are offering incentives to increase their participation. For example, in some areas, if a customer can show he or she has been vaccinated, they’ll get a free drink, donut, gift card or some other reward for their efforts.

The Connecticut Restaurant Association teamed up with state authorities for the “Connecticut Drinks on US” program, May 19-30. Residents who visit participating restaurants and can prove they’ve received either one or two doses of a vaccine get a drink on the house.

Some restaurateurs are working with local governments to hold vaccination events so people can get their shots in a relaxing environment. Restaurants are playing a critical role in promoting the importance of vaccinations around the country. Because of the great response we’re seeing (the CDC reports that 50% of all adult Americans are now vaccinated) some of the regulations put into place are starting to ease.

Outdoor dining is becoming the norm, not the exception
When we think back over the last year, many restaurants were unable to serve customers indoors at all, and if they could, it was at a significantly reduced capacity.

It was at that point that restaurant operators began to realize how important it was to have outdoor dining space. The customers loved it, and it was a necessity to capture customer traffic and revenue. We did a poll a couple of weeks ago asking customers if they wanted to see access to outdoor dining space maintained long-term. More than 80% said they were in favor of it. It's insanely popular.

People love eating outside. We actually have a brand-new number from our research team indicating that if restaurants keep these expanded patios long-term, it could boost average daily sales 10% to 20%. That's serious money.

If it’s storming or snowing outside, operators probably won’t open their outdoor patios that day, but 10% to 20% on good weather days is key. This is one trend we, and our state association partners, are pushing to maintain. It’s been a positive development for the industry.

Increased focus on tech and sanitization
By late summer, we expect to see traditional dining practices resume, even in the most strictly regulated jurisdictions. The pandemic and the increased focus on sanitization will remain top of mind for some time to come, and restaurants will, of course, abide by local regulations.

They’ll do even more to accommodate customers. Many restaurateurs have told me they’ll probably eliminate paper menus; they're costly to print. Every time there's a change to the menus, they have to reprint them.

They're also used by a lot of people a lot of the time. Because many restaurants stopped using them during the pandemic, customers increased their familiarity and ability to use digital menus and QR codes. I think you’ll see more of that technology going forward. That’s where convenience and sanitization intersect.

Restaurants are highly regulated and are such safe dining environments anyway. They’re regulated by federal, state, and local officials, plus you’re going to see additional protocols resulting from the pandemic that operators are going to continue.

 

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