Wine and restaurant dining are intertwined. But restaurants took a hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and restaurant dining in the future, especially in the higher-end venues, will be somewhat different from what we’re used to.
Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently sponsored a webinar, bringing together four leaders in the restaurant industry to reveal several predicted changes to restaurant dining we may see going forward.
1. More Interaction Between Guests and Staff
Many people are craving more connection with others after so many months without it, and the restaurant world is no exception.
“There’s such a desire to have human contact and that will continue forward. We’ll make one-on-one connections with guests at the level they want it,” said John Morisano, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of The Grey, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. He noted that it isn’t easy, since masks create a wall, so staff now need to be more emotive and connect with their eyes, smile behind the mask, and allow their personality to show through.
Other experts predict that this increased connection will extend to beverage staff. “Wine service will be less formal and stuffy,” said Carlinn Karr, Wine Director at Frasca Hospitality Group, which operates several restaurants in Colorado.
2. Possible Price Increases
Restaurants were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, first laying off staff during the lockdown and now struggling to fill positions. Some of them are offering higher salaries, retirement fund options, and other benefits not before seen in the industry.
Restaurants are also grappling with the increased costs of ingredients.
The bottom line: we’ll likely see higher prices on the menu.
The experts emphasized that this doesn’t mean that the restaurant is trying to gouge guests.
“We operate under very thin margins. The restaurant owner is not walking home with a 25% profit. They are often walking home with nothing,” said Karr.
3. A Few Speed Bumps in Restaurant Dining
Another change to restaurant dining we should anticipate is that it won’t all be smooth sailing. Restaurants are struggling to deal with ever-changing rules as well as the aforementioned lack of staff. While they’re trying not to disappoint guests, it will be harder for restaurants to avoid the occasional glitch.
Many restauranteurs hope that consumers will be understanding and offer greater leeway when returning to dining in the current environment.
“Guests need to take a step back and lower expectations,” said Eric Rivera, Chef/Owner of the restaurant Addo in Seattle. “I’ve been doing it all – the wine, the chef, the communication,” he added.
“If guests had empathy for us that would be incredible,” said Karr.
4. Continued Reliance on Digital Menus
At the height of the pandemic, many restaurants turned to QR code menus to offer contactless ordering. Now, some restaurants are reverting to print menus and wine lists.
“It depends on the restaurant. If you’re spending $500 for two, a digital menu takes away from the experience. And it’s hard to read a wine list on your phone,” says Karr.
Yet, others will stick with QR codes. “We’re not seeing a huge issue with guests. It saves $700-$800 a month in printing costs. If I have to 86 something, I just take it off the menu [via the computer]. And it’s environmentally conscious,” said Joshua Fryer, General Manager and Beverage Director at restaurant 8ARM in Atlanta.
5. Fewer Delivery Options
While many restaurants pivoted to take-out and delivery during the pandemic’s lockdown, a lot of them are now abandoning the delivery option, especially since the third-party delivery apps take a percentage for the privilege.
Another reason some are backing away from delivery is because they fear the loss of quality control regarding the food once it's sent out for delivery. “It could be hours before guests get [our pasta],” said Karr.
6. Increased Drinking in Restaurants
After drinking alcoholic beverages at home since the beginning of the pandemic, guests are happy to be drinking elsewhere.
“People hadn’t been spending money and now they’re out and about,” said Fryer.
They’re also experimenting more. “People are being more adventurous. Perhaps they hadn’t seen magnums in a while. It’s really cool,” said Rivera.
We hope you find this information on upcoming changes to restaurant dining helpful as you plan your next night out! Please feel free to contact us and share your thoughts about the future of restaurant dining.
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