As restaurants attempt to settle into the "new normal", venues around the world have gotten creative to reassure their customers. This includes everything from a "corona-proof" table for one in a Swedish valley to seating mannequins to keep lonely diners company in the US.
While these may be extreme cases, we can all agree the restaurant industry has been changing quickly.
Here are some long-term adaptions we can expect to see in the industry here in the UAE in the months to come, according to experts.
This isn’t to say that restaurants weren’t being hygienic before – only that there is an increased focus on precautions taken specifically to fight the virus.
This includes regularly disinfecting tables and chairs after every customer, wiping down any items that are frequently touched and encouraging social distancing (aka smaller groups at tables).
Technology will also play a role, and many restaurants in Dubai have already replaced regular menus with e-menus that can be viewed on a phone after scanning a QR code (to stop multiple people touching one menu).
Contactless payment will also be the new normal.
A huge part of reason behind taking extra precautions, especially as far as hygiene is concerned, is to reassure customers that it is, indeed, safe to eat out.
As Sam Jones, talent acquisition specialist at food and beverage company Food People, puts it: “While we are going through the reopening phase, the main focus is to rebuild customer confidence and ensure that we are able to dine out in a safe environment.”
Less food wastage
From breakfast spreads to brunches, buffets have long been an institution in the UAE. However, because of the coronavirus, we might not be seeing so much of them anymore.
That isn't to say they won't come back in a different form. According to Jones, we can expect to see an increase in manned buffets, and table-service buffets, where food is brought to the table and laid out.
This might, by default, mean that we can see a reduction in food wastage. “I believe the all-you-can-eat food stations and buffets will definitely be dropped by restaurants, for the foreseeable future at least," says Joao Serio, director of operations of Dubai-based Livit Hospitality Management, the company behind restaurant The Bungalow. "It’s exciting to see a new era of brunching being ushered in, which will finally see a shift away from the all-you-can-eat-and-drink mentality.
“The focus will now move to the quality of the experience, allowing food and beverage establishments to really showcase their ability to create diverse menus that explore a variety of great-tasting, high-quality food, complemented by an enjoyable atmosphere.”
Eight-course meals and degustation menus
With buffets and mass food production on hold, this could give the restaurant industry the opportunity to think outside of the box and get creative with its offerings, says Charlie Weaving, managing partner of Livit Hospitality Management.
“While it’s true that, traditionally, most brunches have big buffets, there are also some excellent brunches based on a la carte menus, eight-course tasting menus, etc., and that’s how things are going to be moving forward,” he says.
Can we hope to see more degustation menus, molecular gastronomy and Friday brunches in the months to come? It remains to be seen, but restaurants will have to find a way to make sure guests are enjoying themselves, all while staying safe.
“Even though venues will have to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices, it’s still vital that they turn up the music and create the right kind of vibe," says Weaving. "Combine that with a special food offering, like an eight-course tasting menu over a four-hour period, and customers won’t want to leave."
More delivery options
And even with restrictions easing up, a number of people might not feel comfortable leaving the house yet – especially those in or living with someone in the vulnerable categories.
Which means that restaurants stand a lot to gain by getting into the delivery market in a way that is profitable and unique. For example, in the UAE, LPM has launched a food delivery service with the restaurant’s trademark table decor, delivered in a canvas tote.
Danny Faulkner, a senior consultant with Food People, believes that operators will need a solid delivery menu and strategy in order to make it sustainable.
“Now, more than ever, operators should be ensuring that their food is being delivered in the quickest time possible and to the best specification. Those operators that have their own fleet to deliver will be able to educate their fleet to deliver with a smile to create buy-in between brand and customer."
We can also expect to see more delivery options like RadYes, which allows customers to order from a restaurant's social media.
“Operators need to ensure they’re staying close to their customers to increase brand loyalty where possible. This could prove difficult if solely dependent on aggregators,” says Faulkner.
Creating home experiences
The UAE has already seen the launch of virtual quizzes and murder mystery nights, and we can hope to see more similar home-based experiences as restaurants try to differentiate themselves.
Weaving says: “Customers will want to have their personal space, but still have the option to celebrate with friends. So, why not take the experience to them? Send a couple of waiters and chefs to their house and recreate the kind of vibe they want.
“If they’re missing the beach-club vibe, then set up the at-home brunch around their pool. Alternatively, if it’s a high-end experience they’re looking for, then give them that level of service around their own dining table.
“We need to adhere to any restrictions put in place, while still creating a great experience for guests. People don’t need to be shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at a restaurant, lounge or beach club to have a great time.”