The pandemic’s main lessons for restaurants? Flexibility and preparation

By Mo Chaar

If COVID-19 has shown restaurants anything, it’s that we live in an unpredictable world. In large part, the industry was unprepared for the pandemic, which had ramifications for every aspect of running a restaurant, from the health and safety of guests to staffing challenges.

After two years that saw the industry grappling with lockdowns, capacity restrictions, and other difficulties, things are starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Vaccine passports have been removed and COVID-19 restrictions have eased across the country, but it’s clear that the effects of the pandemic will be felt for some time to come.

The businesses that have survived, and even thrived, through all the twists and turns are the ones that had either embraced emerging technology before the pandemic or quickly adopted it once the scope of the public health crisis became clear. The technology that was initially implemented to offer safe and contactless solutions is now critical for hospitality businesses as Canada inches towards its new normal. 

Taking the pressure off

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, the labour crunch in hospitality is still very much a factor, despite recent signs of recovery. The agency reports that despite the recent gains, the number of people working in accommodation and food services remains below its February 2020 pre-COVID-19 level in all provinces except New Brunswick and Manitoba.

What this means is that restaurants need to be prepared to operate with fewer or less experienced employees. Even a fully-staffed operation could still find itself unexpectedly short if a key team member has to isolate or can’t find childcare.

This is where technology can help fill in the gaps. Strategic implementation of tech solutions can provide managers with the means to cope with unanticipated setbacks and take some of the pressure off overworked employees. 

For example, consider implementing an advanced online ordering system built with restaurant operations in mind. This system also connects your front- and back-of-house operations to deliver the fastest payment method for your consumers, leaving it in their hands to pay on their own time.

One of the biggest lessons learned by restaurateurs during the pandemic is how to do more with less. Integrating technology like bill retrieval for online ordering will enable businesses to turn tables quicker, increase average spending, and get more tips for staff. With any smartphone, customers can scan the QR code on their table to get instant access to the menu. Once dishes are selected, the order can be delivered directly to the kitchen. With the same QR code, diners can pay the bill in as little as 10 seconds, so if restaurateurs find themselves down a server or two, they can easily operate with three servers instead of five with the right tech in place.

In the back of house, advanced kitchen display systems (KDS) can increase efficiency and remove redundancies. A digital KDS streamlines the back-of-house processes, reducing human error and providing much-needed support to the back-of-house team. 

Stay flexible

The pandemic has noticeably accelerated the adoption of contactless tech and online ordering within the hospitality and restaurant industries. Consumers quickly became accustomed to pulling out a smartphone and scanning tabletop QR codes to access, and order from, digital menus. 

Between a global pandemic, supply-chain snarls, rising inflation, and labour shortages, 2020 to 2022 has been a wild — and unpredictable — rollercoaster ride. Technology has enabled restaurants to adapt and ride out each new disruption. And, who knows — the next unexpected event may cause yet another leap forward in a new technological area. 

For restaurants, the key will be to stay nimble and flexible and to seek solutions that integrate well into your existing tech stack. If you suddenly find it necessary to incorporate new elements, you need them to play nice with the operational and reporting systems you already rely on every day. Look for technology partners who are also constantly improving their offerings with an eye on the future and you won’t be left with aging, limited hardware when the next crisis hits.

There’s no question that the pandemic has altered the foodservice industry. Some of the changes will be long-term and some will be temporary, but restaurant operators would do well to remember the lessons we have learned from COVID-19.

We can’t predict future upheavals or disruptions, but we can plan now and implement the right technology to mitigate their impacts.

Mo Chaar is the Chief Commercial Officer of Givex, where he oversees commercial strategy and development worldwide.

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