COVID-19 Changed the Way Americans Dine

Experts say many of these new habits will be permanent.

April 06, 2021

Outdoor Dining and Food Delivery Man

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—COVID-19 has given the U.S. lifestyle a makeover, and many of those changes are in the dining scene. Here are the changes most likely to be around a long time, according to USA Today.

Contactless Menus: 

Contactless menus, which require a few quick taps on your phone, are here to stay. In a Future of Restaurants 2021 report  by Wakefield Research, 88% of those surveyed said they’d consider using digital menus in place of physical menus. Additionally, 76% said they'll continue with contactless tech this year.

Delivery and Takeout:

When COVID-19 hit, leisurely dining and hanging out at the bar were replaced by takeout meals and beverages. Those activities are expected to return as more people get vaccinations, but many restaurants are now in a takeout mode and are generating revenue from these transactions. Expect takeout to have a long life.

Hand Sanitizer, Air Filtration:

Hand sanitizers at the bar, table and hostess stand became staples at restaurants that reopened for business after getting the go-ahead from local governments as the initial threat of COVID-19 subsided. Now, in addition to providing extra sanitization, retailers are investing in new filtration systems and industrial cleaning. Clean businesses have always been attractive to consumers, but now the restaurant industry is under pressure to deliver a “beyond-clean” experience.

Outdoor Dining:

During the summer of 2020, cities and towns designated parking areas and sometimes whole streets to give restaurants more outside room for diners. Many of those spaces have been removed, but the foodservice industry knows that the set-up will work, and consumers will welcome it. As a result, some policymakers and foodservice operators are discussing how to bring a semblance of that back for the spring and summer of 2021.

Fast Casual:

Foodservice operators had to rethink their environment thanks to the pandemic. When it comes to new locations, they are focusing on good food that comes out fast in a space where diners are comfortable, and that means readily available grab-and-go locations. Popular since pre-COVID-19, the fast-casual restaurant model, based on offering elevated food at competitive prices in a wait-service-free dining room, is now more desirable than ever.

Ghost Kitchens:

They existed before COVID-19, but the pandemic increased demand for their services. Also known as digital kitchens or virtual restaurants, ghost kitchens are restaurants without a dining room, creating food strictly to-go. They’re a great way to test new items, use ingredients the restaurant (mostly) already has and reduce waste.

To learn more about the trend, be sure to read “Ghost Kitchens” in NACS Magazine.

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