Now that restaurants have reopened with limited indoor dining after being closed for eight weeks, we asked those close to the local food landscape what they thought about the future of restaurants, eating out and what changes diners could expect.
Here’s what they said:
Chef Adam Hayes, executive vice president of Larkin’s Restaurants
“When is post COVID? The question has a broad answer. I think there will be far less restaurants in the beginning.
“I think the restaurant industry has to do what it always does, adapt. Guests will be expected to do the same. Will they accept? This is the real question.
“The meat market is all over the board. That’s driving our costs up. If the cost of a burger for us to put on a plate gets to $7, would you pay $21? I’m not saying that will happen, but it very well could.
“My main point is, guests will need to understand that we are adjusting to the post-COVID atmosphere. Our farmers and distributors are doing the same. When you slam the breaks on to a huge industry like ours, it will take passionate people and tremendous energy to get it going again.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure how to best answer what the future looks like. I have to listen and read as much as possible from ‘experts’, and find a path through all those ‘what if’s’. The initial landscape will be sparse with less options for dining out. There will be many of us that will come out of this excited to be back to serving our community, the safest most hospitable way we can.”
Amy Bishop, Greenbrier Farms
“I think moving forward we are going to see even more take-out dining. It was already on the upward trend before the pandemic, and now that people have gotten used to this, I see them continuing to eat that way. The pandemic has brought a lot of customer appreciation to the industry. With many of our community’s favorite spots having to shut down, I think consumers will be diligent in supporting their favorites still in business.”
Heidi Trull, owner, Grits & Groceries
“My fear is that we are going to be responsible for policing diners to make sure they distance. My hope is that the small guys like us can be flexible enough to come out on top and that the public has a good window into the struggles of a small business and understands that we do this because we love it and we love them. “
Octavius Nelson, owner, Bobby’s BBQ
“I hate to say it, I don’t know how pandemics come or if this one will be existing one day, but it teaches us how to adapt.
“It’s going to change the landscape, the livelihoods. Going forward it has to be in the back of your mind and you have to be able to adapt and have more than one model.
“I noticed restaurants doing this — they made family meal packs and some places people did totally different food.
“We have to look at things different.”
Jon Buck, executive chef, Husk Greenville
“One of the biggest changes I see is this to-go format. I think that is going to possibly be a permanent change. And so what can we do to bring the closest semblance of the Husk experience to you at home in a to-go format?
“Right now, looking at packaging for it. That will be a big part of trying to deliver the experience at home I’ve been going through the compostable packaging containers.
“The industry is going to change. How much and what is the dining experience going to become, there are a lot of questions about that.
“We have to be ready to be adaptive and be fluid. “
Nick Lincoln, executive director, Urban Wren
“I think if anything people are gonna be happy to be out. I think a lot of people are going stir crazy. They want to be out. People want to be able to be served and to have an experience.
“I think we’ll go through a time where people may want more space between each other, but I think things will be back to normal sooner rather than later.
Lori Nelsen and David Porras, owners of Oak Hill Café & Farm
“I do think that the future is going to present itself more like we at Oak Hill Cafe and Farm have been striving for in the past and present. We want to encourage our community to think more critically about where food comes from, the quality and nutrition of their food, reducing waste, reducing carbon footprints, and supporting the local economy as much as possible so that in the long run, the mindset of the whole community changes. Then the small farms don’t suffer when the food supply chain falls apart like it has recently. If people are already used to buying from their local suppliers and businesses, then the community has a solid foundation for economic stability in the roller coaster of pandemics, etc.”
Max Godo, owner, Sushi Go
“As for post-virus, I think it will make people be a lot more careful about how they interact with others on a day to day basis. The restaurant industry has taken a hit, however I think it will recover as people realize how valuable it can be to spend time away from home and be with others.”
Carl Sobocinski, founder and president of Table 301 Restaurant Group
“The impact of this economical shutdown will likely shutter at least ¼ of all restaurants in America immediately and likely 40% or more as time goes on. The recovery is going to be very slow and with hotels remaining closed, airlines virtually empty, and business travel all but gone for the foreseeable future, restaurants will be looking to survive on the local populations and very little tourism and business travel, which makes up a large percentage of many restaurants volume. “I believe that some of the changes to the restaurant industry will last well beyond a vaccine or successful treatment drug. Some of those are the extensive hand washing and sanitation devices at entry points and throughout the work areas; an employee daily health screen prior to arriving at work; and single use items to avoid cross contamination and multiple touch points. Social distancing will likely remain past a vaccine but not permanently as the math for restaurants just doesn’t work without utilizing all areas of the dining rooms.”
“Prediction: Until there is a vaccination, social distancing will become our reality. Sadly, a quarter of restaurants may close, while established, experienced restaurants that focus heavily on quality, consistency, and relationships will remain open.
Jackie Shapiro Brooker, founder of Off the Grid Greenville
“When indoor seating is again an option, there will be a new way to serve the community. New seating and serving strategies will need to be incorporated in restaurant design and reservations will become essential. I believe that the popularity of online ordering, takeout, curbside pickup, and outdoor dining will continue to be normalized.
Shawn Kelly, chef and co-owner, Fork & Plough
“It’s hard to predict when things will be back to normal, or what the ‘new normal’ will look like. It’s going to take a while for much of the population to feel comfortable again, although I talk to many others who are chomping at the bit.
“One thing that I think is for certain is that the trend of communal tables will be a hard sell for guests. It’s one thing to be seated at a table 6 feet from another, but a whole different story to be at the same table. Also, say goodbye to salt and pepper shakers, hot sauces and condiments at the table. Those will be replaced with sanitizer and wipes. Take-home menus (single use) will likely be commonplace.
“The emergence of the ‘restaumart’ (credit Forbes magazine for the nomenclature), where tables are spaced with filler tables covered in other merchandise and retail items, will become a way for larger restaurants to not completely waste valuable square footage. The small boutique restaurants will be phased out due to spacing issues, and the large models that rely on 300 cover nights will be hard-pressed to maintain their revenue flow. The in-between sizes that can get by through spreading guests between different areas of the restaurant will become more popular. To make up for the loss of space, an added emphasis will be placed on carryout and delivery. “
Mike Shuler, owner Smoke on the Water
“Personally, and I hope everyone opens back up, but I think you’ll see less restaurants for a while, unfortunately. We run on such small margins as an industry.
Think you’ll see smaller menus, people focusing on items they can make more money on with less sales.
Everybody will see less sales and I think from staffing to ordering to everything it’s going to change. There still will be a portion of the population that doesn’t feel safe going out. Days of 2-hour waits I think are gonna be a ways away.”
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