During the Great Recession, many restaurants went under. Their business models of $35 entrees and $150 bottles of wine just weren’t working any more at a time when mortgages were failing and people were losing their jobs. But by 2010, new restaurants started to open with a new business model: $18-22 entrees, small plates, and $12 cocktails. By 2020, we had a vibrant restaurant scene. In fact, many chefs couldn’t find real estate locations to open a new concept.
As restaurants were forced to close in the early days of COVID-19, there was a lot of handwringing and despair among industry veterans, but as reality set in so did innovation, determination, and grit.
There will be more restaurant closures. This is a given. However, chefs are inherently creative and likely had their next restaurant brewing in their minds while busy working the daily grind. Now that they have time on their hands, they can explore these new concepts. Landlords should be offering much lower rents than before the pandemic when they held all the cards and few empty spaces existed.
Investors are always ready to join talented chefs in bringing new concepts to local venues. Add ghost kitchens, expanded take-out and delivery services and the restaurant scene will rise again.
So, look for more plant-based offerings on menus, larger outdoor seating areas with temperature controls for longer seasons, indoor venues will tout special air circulating systems. Comfort foods (pizza, burgers, and bowls) will continue to trend. Toppings will be more vegetable centric. Cocktails will include functional foods like kombucha and super fruits. Desserts will use natural sugar substitutes.
Home cooking has become a “thing” for those who used to spend most nights eating out as a way of socializing.
There are Facebook groups where “challenges” are staged among friends. People are enlisting their kids to stir the pot. Grandparents are joining meals via Face Time or Zoom.
While all this added kitchen activity created shortages of some items as COVID-19 spread and meat packing plants saw large infection rates, most supply side issues have evened out on the grocery side. Many companies have seen a surge in sales due to an uptick in home-cooking. People getting bored with their own cooking, but not ready to go out to dine, means more specialty products have an opportunity to entice trial.
While some have embraced home delivery, major retailers like Kroger and Whole Foods Markets expect people to return to indoor shopping for food, especially perishables. Some of us just can’t accept someone else choosing our tomatoes or salmon steak. For some, it’s been their only chance to escape home confinement. Going to the grocery has become an excuse to get out of the house.
What’s left to be seen is this Holiday Season? Will there be a dip in grocery sales as people have smaller holiday gatherings? Or will smaller gatherings mean more of them, meaning more sales? Since there won’t be holiday parties several times per week, will hostess gifts suffer? Will catering have its moment?
Hospitality and travel venues are sure to continue to suffer, but we have to eat and people will adapt. A large percentage have not lost income, they have gained time at home and cooking is offering them a much needed and vital distraction.
Just like during the Great Recession, the pandemic lockdown hasn’t influenced our food supply as much as other industries. Chefs continue to inspire, farmers continue to grow our staples, grocers continue to provide variety, and all of us have learned to adapt and grow and accept the new normal.