Why COVID-19 could present opportunities for restaurateurs

By Mark Plumlee

It’s been a tough 16 months for restaurateurs.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the industry to the brink, accelerating technological trends and forcing restaurants to adopt to-go business as a foundational revenue stream.

As we come out of the pandemic into the “new normal,” get ready to see an explosion of new ventures from first-time restaurateurs. The various changes to restaurants’ operations that were compressed into 2020 have arguably made it easier than ever to start a successful restaurant.

It may seem counterintuitive with the pandemic still ongoing in North America, but there has perhaps never been a better time to start a restaurant.

Lower barrier to entry

One big takeaway from 2020 is a shift in how we view what constitutes a restaurant. Before, that normally meant a dine-in brick-and-mortar establishment, a quick-service establishment, or, in recent years, a food truck.

Most of those types of establishments require a huge upfront investment. As the industry at large adopts more of a takeout model, that need for a physical building diminishes, which lowers the barrier to entry.

The best example of this? Ghost kitchens. Ambitious restaurateurs can now rent out space in an industrial kitchen, partner with a delivery service, and serve all their food to-go. This massively reduces the initial investment, continued overhead, and financial risk.

If you have a certain type of food you love to make and share, the barrier to entering the marketplace has never been lower or less risky.

Advances in technology

Industry experts have estimated that the COVID-19 forced restaurants to cram five years of digital advancement into one. Others say it’s closer to 10 years.

As is often the case, this level of rapid change has led to loads of opportunities, especially for people looking to break into the world of restaurants. Technology has democratized the process by automating certain systems that would otherwise require a heavy investment of employee time and resources.

Modern POS systems streamline your backend operations and allow you to seamlessly integrate cashless payments, contactless ordering, and online menus. QR codes simplify your digital marketing and contactless dining. Social media allows you to build and market to an audience for free.

DIY design

An underrated aspect of starting a restaurant is figuring out your aesthetic. You have so many touchpoints with your customers — menus, flyers, websites, social media, etc. — and all of them should be working together to build your brand and sell your food. That requires professional restaurant design.

In the past, if you wanted that professional restaurant look, you needed to shell out professional restaurant money for a graphic designer. That’s no longer the case.

Menu template services have made it so anyone can achieve that professional restaurant look at the fraction of the price of paying a professional designer. They cover all your menu and marketing needs, including logos, flyers, social media posts, and table tents.

Most importantly, they give you complete control over your design: you can update it whenever you want without having to pay your graphic designer to make the changes. It’s all at your fingertips.

Available real estate

A result of the many closures since the start of the pandemic is that there is an abundance of open real estate. This is an unfortunate reality, but it also represents a massive opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs looking to break into the industry.

While you no longer necessarily need a brick-and-mortar space to open a successful restaurant in 2021, if you’d like to open a storefront, there has never been a better time.

A big thing to consider is that many people took the pandemic as an opportunity to move out of the city and into the suburbs. So before you sign up for what seems like an attractive piece of property downtown, consider whether you might not be able to find a cheaper and more up-and-coming spot outside of the city core.

What are you waiting for?

In 2020, restaurants faced the biggest challenge in their history, and they adapted to overcome by embracing technology and pivoting fundamental aspects of their business model.

As we gradually leave the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind, those changes, as they often do, have led to an unprecedented time of opportunity for restaurateurs looking to open a restaurant.

Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Copywriter for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants. His work has been published in Modern Restaurant Management, QSR, FSR, Food Service News, Hospitality Tech and Bar Business Magazine. When he’s not covering food industry trends and technology, he likes to write about the Portland Trail Blazers.

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