Not many businesses have manged to escape the dire implications from the global pandemic. But few have been hit as hard as restaurants.
As restaurants around the globe have been forced to close over extended and multiple periods and had to make significant investments to implement required security measures to stay open when it was locally permitted, sadly many have closed their doors forever.
It is still too early to say the worst is behind us, and we still don’t know who in the end is going to survive and how the future of the restaurant industry will look post-Covid.
To survive, restaurants have been forced to find new, innovative ways to stay afloat.
None of this has made up for the loses restaurants have suffered when people were no longer able to eat out. But at least it means they manage to carry on with paying rents and maintaining their staff.
Yet, some features that have emerged during the pandemic I’d love to see living on in future.
Gourmet food take-out and delivery
OK, take-out food is nothing new. And there has been some good stuff around in the past as well.
But take-out options over the past year have moved up not only a notch but really reached the stars.
Many restaurants that previously would never have thought to sell their food other than serving it right at the table have started to offer take-out. Including top gourmet and Michelin-star restaurants.
And the take-out food they offer is simply amazing. It’s not just an already cooked meal that will be wrapped up to keep warm and shipped to the customer. No, restaurants are offering pre-cooked meals including starters, mains, and desserts which are pre-cooked to be finished by the customer by simply putting in the oven or given the final touches in a saucepan.
These meals come with written instructions how to finish and they are absolutely the highest level.
Like when going to the restaurant, menus are changing according to seasonal products available and will be tailored to special occasions such as Christmas menus, Valentine’s Day menus, and other special celebrations.
In addition to food, many restaurants also provide pairing recommendations and sell beverages for take-out and delivery.
Whilst we all are looking to the moment eating out in a restaurant will be safely back on the cards, I can think about a lot of occasions I’d love to order gourmet food take-out to serve at home without the hassle of spending a long time in the kitchen cooking myself.
Casual gourmet dining
If you have been sitting through a multi-course tasting menu in the past, you know these can be the most amazing culinary experiences and at the same time feel over-the-top artificially staged events that focus more on the show rather the food.
To tell the truth, I have always been ambivalent to such experiences.
Over the past year, restaurants have been looking at ways to reduce costs whilst still providing excellent food experiences. With capacity restraints, in some cases allowing only a 25% of space usage, serving 8 to 12 course, three-hour menus for only a handful of guests did not work for the majority of places.
As a result, many have changed their menus from fancy tasting menus to provide a more laidback dining experience.
Focus remains on high quality ingredients and fresh produce. However, menus are reduced to three or four courses with dishes often based on local comfort food or an increasingly local twist but elevated in creative ways.
There will still be surprising taste experiences, with chefs playing with different flavour combinations and wine pairing. Still, the experience is scaled down to the essential and service at the table is not going for the show.
It basically comes down to excellent gourmet food and a relaxed, feel-good atmosphere I would love to see living on after the pandemic.
New, unusual dining locations
There have been those occasion when restaurants partnered with places such as museums to host very special dinners on their premisses. But these occasions have been obviously rare and also typically quite expensive.
With restaurants trying to implement social distancing requirements and in-door seating difficult and not very popular during the pandemic, restaurants have thought about new places to serve guest.
Outdoor seating was unsurprisingly popping up where possible, using terraces, patios and often sidewalks with some cities loosening the rule on public space usage in front of restaurants.
But restaurants have also thought about even more innovative places and tried to prolong the outdoor season as well by making spaces cold-weather proof.
During the warmer months of the year, restaurants located in rural areas surrounded by lawns and large gardens have created picnic-style menus which have been served at tables set in the garden or laying out blankets on lawns. In addition, beach-side dining also took off at restaurants located close to the coast.
Social media: Virtual cooking sessions and chefs sharing their best recipes
With direct contact limited due to closures and capacity restrictions, restaurants have taken to social media to stay connected with their customers. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and various other outlets have suddenly brimmed with new content from renowned chefs, restaurant owners and sommeliers.
A feature I have particularly fallen in love with over the past year are virtual cooking sessions with renowned chefs.
Of course, chefs are not too keen to spill the secrets around their signature dishes. After all, they want you to go to the restaurant to have these dishes you do not find elsewhere in the same fashion. Thus, they are jealous to reveal all ingredients, cooking methods and any specific tricks used to compose a dish.
But as restaurants were closed, and offering take-out instead was not feasible for everyone (or limited in the scale of reaching customers, for example for those in remote locations), many chefs have started to share some of their recipes, and many started to host online cooking sessions and workshops.
Ever fancied to try your hand on making fresh pasta at home? Then have a look and you are most likely to find online workshops or video clips with Italian chefs teaching how to make pasta from scratch, sharing some of their tricks how it best works.
Organic, seasonal, and local
This off course had already been on the rise before the pandemic as people are looking to healthier lifestyles and becoming more resource and environmentally conscious.
But the last couple of months have really had a huge impact on people’s relationship with food and sustainability.
Both customers and restaurants have also become more conscious about global supply chains. With many national borders closed or implementing severe border control which slowing down shipments, restaurants have not always been able to buy the ingredients they normally use. Likewise, groceries and supermarkets have struggled to refill their shelves with all the exported products we all are usually so accustomed to buy year-round.
Restaurants have increasingly turned to local providers, starting to seek out nearby farms for vegetables, dairy products, meat, and poultry. Some are now even starting to look at ways to grow their own produce.
They have also reviewed their menus and taken-off a lot of dishes that call for ingredients which are not locally grown obviously.
This new ‘farm-to-table’ vibe that you can now be found even at restaurants in the city, not just in the countryside where it has been already more common in recent years, is giving diners much more confidence the food they eat comes from sustainable farming.
What has been your experience with restaurants during the pandemic? Have you found new features you hope restaurants will continue to offer in future?