The coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly change the restaurant business as it emerges from the business-shattering ordeal, three panelists on a Cornell University webinar agreed Friday.
For example, Jeff Chandler, CEO of the 35-unit Austin, Texas-based fast-casual Hopdoddy Burger Bar, said curbside delivery “is here to stay” in restaurants.
“Off-premise will remain a strong component of the business once we get back and fully lean into this new normal,” Chandler said as he joined the other panelists, who included James Park, CEO of Denver-based Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, and Jose Dueñas, president and CEO of Coffee & Bagel Brands, parent to the Einstein Bros. Bagels and other brands.
“This pandemic has created new challenges for everyone, and we are all now in various stages of distancing, isolation and quarantine,” said Alex Susskind, the associate dean for academic affairs and director of the Cornell Institute for Food and Beverage Management at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, who served as the moderator of the webinar entitled “The Restaurant Business in Crisis: Coping with Restaurant Slowdowns, Expense Management and the Road Ahead.”
“It has affected basically every aspect of our life,” Susskind said, asking the restaurant executives what they saw for the industry as it emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chandler said one other impact will be that mobile-ordering technology will become commonplace.
“People aren’t going to want to touch a kiosk,” Chandler said, referencing the contagious nature of COVID-19. “They are going to want to order from a person, where they don’t have to touch anything, or through their own mobile device.”
Touchless payment systems are also here to stay, Chandler noted.
“The entrepreneurial, scrappy mentality that we’ve all forced to adapt [to] has been an eye-opener,” Chandler added. “We will all go back and revisit a lot of things: whether we really need to be paying for a conference-call system. … We will just take a more frugal, scrappy approach. We know how thin the margins are in our business anyway.”
Dueñas of Lakewood, Colo.-based Coffee & Bagel Brands, which has 1,100 units of Einstein Bros. Bagels, Bruegger’s Bagels, Caribou Coffee, Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagel, said the consumer will come out of the pandemic with a heightened demand for convenience.
“The convenience-driven outlets that the consumer has explored during the crisis will stay and that will change the behavior,” Dueñas said.
He added that restaurant brands will have to make sure they have their product at “arms length” for the consumer, be that curbside, delivery, order-ahead or distribution in the grocery channels.
“You have to use your brand to satisfy the convenience needs that will come out of this crisis,” Dueñas said.
The crisis has affected every aspect of the restaurant business, said Park of the 31-unit Garbanzo.
“The big lesson here,” said Park, “is a level of efficiency while maintaining the same level of effectiveness.” Some of the Garbanzo units, for example, now offer milk, bottled juices and six-packs of eggs to as a consumer service.
Community remains important for brands, Park said, quoting Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group. “He said, ‘Your restaurant is only as good as the soil upon which your customers walk,’” he recalled. ”Never in history has that meant more to me than it does currently.”
While some operators joke that the only MBA needed in the restaurant business to be successful is a “Mop-Bucket Attitude,” Park said, “We are resilient. I can’t think of another industry that gets pummeled the way we have in the last three weeks and still end up on this conference call and still come to the battle every day.
“That level of entrepreneurial spirit and commitment is going to roar this industry back,” Park said. “We will be much stronger and much more efficient on the other side of this.”
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