retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

USA Today has a story about long-term changes that ther pandemic has forced upon the nation's restaurant business, after a year in which the coronavirus was responsible for ther closure of many establishments all over the country and the loss of more than eight million jobs in the industry.

Some of the predictions from chefs, restaurateurs and industry experts  include a continued use of people's smartphones to view menus (which will allow restaurants to be a lot more nimble in terms fo editing and customization) … outdoor dining, which will make America a lot more like Europe … continued emphasis on takeout (which has been a lifeline for industry survivors), which will continue to create a need for ghost kitchens … less crowding of patrons inside restaurants … and edited menus, which chefs focusing on a few great things rather than expansive, less specialized offerings.

All of those seem eminently reasonable … and quite frankly, most of them play into my personal restaurant preferences.

But there were two that surprised me - though they also seem logical.

One is that we'll see more weddings in restaurants - that the pandemic has created an awareness that weddings don't have to be massive events, and that a simpler ceremony in a great restaurant with terrific food and wine can be more memorable and less of a financial stretch.

The other is that alcohol-to-go will be a big draw - the National Restaurant Association (NRA) says that "since the pandemic erupted roughly 7 in 10 full-service restaurants and more than half of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants started selling liquor with takeout or delivery orders.," USA Today writes, saying that it is "a trend that Hudson Riehle of the NRA says is 'here to stay.'  It is, he points out, a real plus with millennials: more than half say they'd choose a restaurant for food delivery if they can get alcohol too. "

Seems to me that these are all innovations that could allow restaurants to be even more competitive with supermarkets, which have grown share-of-stomach market share during the pandemic.  Now is the wrong time for supermarkets to be complacent about holding onto that business, especially because it seems possible, even likely, that emergence from the pandemic will result in a restaurant resurgence.

How the players will choose to compete will be an Eye-Opener.