Michael Tanguay

By: Michael Tanguay on August 5th, 2020

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How Coronavirus Has Changed the Dining Industry: Top Trends in Foodservice Today

As foodservice operations continue to deal with the effects of Coronavirus, many have been forced to make changes to comply with government regulations and new guest demands.

Some states have capacity restrictions on indoor dining, while others are only allowing for outdoor dining and takeout.

While some operators have chosen to stay closed to avoid the risk of an outbreak in their facility, many others have now reopened with changes in the way they run their business. Most commonly, businesses have shifted their service models to offer safer service options such as contactless curbside pickup and delivery.

Regardless of state and government regulations, guests have never been more concerned with their health and safety. The cleanliness of your facility and the safety of your meal services are critical to keeping guests satisfied and encouraging repeat visits.

Guests who are comfortable dining out are looking for enhanced safety measures and poof of the changes you have made to keep them safe. Other guests, who are not yet prepared to return to their normal dining habits, are continuing to choose delivery and curbside pickup options to mitigate the risk of getting sick, even if their area has been reopened for indoor dining.

Foodservice operations will continue to operate with government regulations as well as increased customer demands for cleanliness and safety until there is a way to control the spread of Coronavirus.

The changes in service requirements are unprecedented and meeting these new demands and regulations can be challenging. Even though you may not be able to serve your guests like you normally would, your guests must receive the same high-quality experience at home or in your outdoor dining space as they would have in the past. Understanding the latest trends can help you better adapt to the changing market.

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In this article and video, we offer some of the most innovative ways to meet the new regulations and guest demands for takeout, outdoor dining, and restricted indoor dining.

Adapting to the new environment has forced businesses to look for ways to continue to allow patrons to enjoy the same great experience no matter where they are.

Takeout: Curbside Pickup & Delivery

open for takeout only

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest changes foodservice operators have dealt with is having to comply with government regulations. States across the country forced foodservice establishments to close indoor dining areas, restricting them to take-out only.

Whether your operation offered takeout before the Coronavirus pandemic or not, contactless curbside pickup and delivery is now the norm.

In either case, providing guests with a meal that meets their standards is important. Some of the most pressing trends in takeout include:

  1. Safer Containers
  2. More Versatile Containers
  3. Reimaged Container Use
  4. Alcohol-To-Go

1. Safer Containers 

The highest priority for takeout remains safety, and then food quality and appearance. One of the best ways to ease concerns is with tamper-evident packaging.

Tamper-proof or tamper-evident food packaging has a secure barrier or barriers that indicates if a container has been opened or unsealed.tamper evident bowls

There are many benefits to tamper-proof packaging, but in this case the most important being food security. If your guests can see that the food packaging’s original seal has not been broken, they will have greater peace of mind.

Additionally, tamper-evident food packaging clearly demonstrates that you have a concern for your guests’ well-being. Customers who see that you understand that their safety is a priority will have increased loyalty to your products.

The most common tamper-proof packaging has a tear-strip to signal if the container has been opened. Other types of secure packaging include containers in which the hinge or corners are torn or damaged when opened. There are also tamper seal bags that offer the ability to see if the bag has been opened after its initial seal from your kitchen or packaging area.

2. More Versatile Containers

In addition to safer containers, businesses are shifting towards more versatile containers that can allow for better, more reliable transport and easy consumption on arrival.

Without the right packaging, food can lose its desired temperature or texture. Packaging should support the meal being offered. More versatile containers For example, if it is a hot meal, the packaging should vent steam to avoid your food product getting soggy, but it should also have good heat retention so that your guest’s food does not arrive cold.

Food can also shift and spill during transit, creating a messy and unpleasant experience for your customers.

If your offering includes saucy or liquid products, you will need containers with leak protection. Depending on your menu, it may also be important to have packaging that has different compartments to keep food items from mixing which could otherwise compromise meal quality.

You must provide your customers with a reliable food container that ensures their to-go orders arrive at the right temperature and without any leaks.

You should also consider what your guests will be doing with the meal once it leaves your facility. If they need to reheat it, then a container that is microwaveable or ovenable will be important.

3. Reimagined Container Use 

Family style meal offerings are one of the most popular outcomes of the Coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants and other foodservice operations have converted their single meal offerings to large meals that accommodate 2 or more people for a more affordable price.

make your own tacosTo accommodate the newly added menu items, you may consider repurposing the take out containers you currently use to fit this new trend.

Using containers that you already have on hand to support new menu items can help you leverage your current resources.

For example, if you already purchase rib containers, it may be practical to offer the supplies for a DIY taco kit or the supplies for an at-home pizza night in those containers.

If you evaluate your current packaging supplies and determine that you do not have containers that can accommodate your new menu items, it may be worth investing in new food packaging to help attract sales from your offering.

4. Alcohol-To-Go

Alcohol sales can make up as much as 30% of restaurant sales and more for bars and clubs. To help these businesses recoup their losses from forced closures and capacity restrictions, state agencies are temporarily allowing restaurants and other foodservice operations to sell alcohol with curbside and delivery options.

Alcohol to GoIn most states, they’re permitting the sale of sealed containers of beer and liquor consistent with the alcohol types you are currently permitted to sell on-premise (based on your permit type) for take-out.

However, the rulings for selling liquor do vary from state-to-state and by your permit type, and the rules are continuously changing. Check with your local government agency to find out more about takeout beverage sales in your area.

If you can offer drinks as a complement to your takeout and delivery meals, liquid beverages must be packaged in a sealed, leak-proof container. Cup options should prohibit tampering, and should effectively keep the drink from spilling in transport.

Outdoor Dining

For foodservice establishments ready to return to on-site dining, there may still be restrictions on how and where you can serve guests. In many states, indoor dining is prohibited and outdoor dining is encouraged.

When serving guests outside your facility they will expect to have the same quality dining experience outside as they would inside.

  1. Durable Products
  2. Sustainable Products

1. Durable Products

One of the challenges with outdoor dining is ensuring that the utensils and products you are using are durable and can provide your guests with an enjoyable experience. In many cases, operations are choosing to switch to disposable items such as plates, bowls, and cups for outdoor dining.

If this is the case, selecting a product that will not break or leak onto the customer is paramount.

2. Sustainable Products

Concerning sustainable food packaging, you will likely want to choose products that are recyclable or compostable.

Pro Tip: Most compostable food packaging products are labeled as commercially compostable. Compostable and commercially compostable are different. When marked as commercially compostable, the product will break down into organic materials in a specified period of time, but only in a commercial composting facility. Commercially compostable products do not break down in home composting sites or landfills.

Compost

When trying to determine if recyclable or compostable materials are best for your business, consider the disposal option(s) in your area.

Commercial compost facilities are not widely available, resulting in you throwing away the “compostable” products you paid more for. If there are no commercial composting facilities in your area, compostable products are likely not the most sustainable option.

Recyclable products that are widely accepted, such as aluminum or plastic number 5 (polypropylene), will be a better choice.

Restricted Indoor Dining

With social distancing guidelines and capacity restrictions in place, indoor dining will look different. The new indoor dining scene will likely require you to have increased spaces between tables, reduced bar seats, and other social distancing measures.Restricted Indoor Dining

In addition to dealing with different social distancing regulations, foodservice operations who can offer indoor dining, or are preparing to open for indoor dining, will have to identify ways to limit germ spread.

Some of the best ways to limit germ spread and reduce the risk of an outbreak in your facility include:

  1. Introducing Touch-Free Options
  2. Providing Individually Wrapped Cutlery
  3. Replacing Salad Bars and Other Self Serve Areas

1. Introducing Touch-Free Options

The most popular trend for indoor dining revolves around guest and employee safety. One of the best ways to reduce risk in any facility is reducing the number of high touchpoints that people will come into contact with when in your facility.

High touchpoints are areas that are frequently touched and can promote the spread of germs.

Solutions that can mitigate direct contact with these surfaces include touch-free options for cutlery, napkins, hand soap, sanitizer, and paper towels.

2. Providing Individually Wrapped Cutlery 

To further reduce germ spread, a common trend is the increased use of cutlery kits and individually wrapped cutlery.

Smartstock Cutlery DispensersUnwrapped cutlery offers no protection against germs and bacteria, especially when they are in bins.

If you are using bins it will be imperative to use wrapped or partially wrapped cutlery. Unwrapped cutlery can be touched by multiple people, ultimately contaminating the utensils.

Wrapped cutlery can protect your utensils from coming into contact with dirt and germs, lowering the risk of cross-contamination and illness.

3. Replacing Salad Bars and Other Self Serve Areas

In many states, self serve areas have been required to close to prevent germ spread. Although no evidence supports that Coronavirus can be transmitted by food, the risk of food contamination at self-serve areas is high.

Instead of losing this self-serve space, they can be repurposed.

Reimagining self serve areas, like salad bars, to now offer a variety of grab and go meal options is a great way to use a space that would otherwise be unoccupied.

Grab and go items are sealed and protected, offering an alternative that customers perceive as safer and a better choice than the typical self-serve option.

It is important that your grab and go containers effectively merchandise your meals and maintain your food’s quality, ensuring it keeps your food fresh and looking great.

Another way to repurpose this space is to convert these self-serve stations to create-your-own order stations, where an employee creates customized dishes for your guests based on their selections.

This allows you to continue to receive sales from your salad bar or self-serve bar while complying with Coronavirus safety standards and protocols.


Final Thoughts

Foodservice operations have a lot to consider when trying to meet the new government regulations and expectations of their guests.

Adjusting to the new normal may require changes to your food packaging, presentation, services, and more.

Finding the packaging solution that meets the needs of your customers while balancing durability, convenience, sustainability, and price isn’t always easy.

EBP offers a wide variety of safe and reliable packaging options to help bring peace of mind to your guests and provide them with a great experience.

Contact an EBP Specialist today to review your current operation and recommend the best option(s) for you.

Download our FREE, Coronavirus Readiness Playbook: 6 Vital Steps to Protect Your Facility, designed to provide you with the 6 vital steps you need to keep your facility protected against a Coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus Readiness Playbook: 6 Vital Steps to Protect Your Facility

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About Michael Tanguay

Michael Tanguay is a Sales Representative for EBP Supply Solutions, with over 25 years of experience in helping customers tackle their foodservice packaging and commercial cleaning challenges. Since 2012, he has specialized in sustainable foodservice packaging alternatives to help customers increase their food and beverage sales while being more environmentally conscious, and customizing cleaning and sanitation programs using green cleaning products to help lessen their company’s environmental footprint.