To-go Food Businesses Adapting to 'New Normal'

To-go food businesses are finding it challenging to keep customers and staff physically distanced.
To-go food businesses are finding it challenging to keep customers and staff physically distanced.

As food businesses around the world begin to reopen to the public, they are adapting to the ‘new normal’ of operations in different ways. How food businesses are adapting is based on a variety of factors such as type of food business and the amount of square footage in the premises. For example, those businesses that are based mostly on a ‘grab-and-go’ business model, tend to operate in smaller spaces and thus, have to get quite creative in order to follow governmental restrictions and guidelines. It appears that the biggest hurdle these types of businesses face is how to serve their customers quickly and keep staff safe. Here are a few ways that to-go food businesses are meeting rules and regulations while keeping customers coming back:

Controlling customer capacity and flow

How to-go food businesses handle their customers is key to ensuring physical distancing restrictions — and other guidelines — are properly met. Some businesses are limiting the amount of customers to one adult at a time within the premises. Others are completely restricting customers from coming into the premises, and are having them wait outside to be brought their food. Tables are chairs are used to block entrances or to square off a small area near the entrance where customers may come in to pay and pick up their food.

Keeping staff apart

All food businesses that have reopened are being required to ensure physical distancing among staff and customers. Keeping customers distanced is a bit easier, and is achieved with floor markings and signage. Keeping staff separated is proving to much more difficult, especially for food businesses with tight, small spaces. Some food businesses are using personal protective equipment (PPE) if proper distancing cannot be achieved between staff, but this points to a big issue being experienced by many food businesses: high operational costs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, operational costs for food businesses have climbed significantly. There are extra costs such as employee hazard pay, cleaning products and PPE. It is evident that keeping staff distanced properly does not come without its challenges and costs.

Only accepting cashless payments

Many to-go food businesses are choosing to forgo accepting cash as payment, and instead enforcing a cashless payment rule. This limits the potential risk of handling contaminated cash and coins, as well as allowing for customers to get in and out of the food premises more quickly. Food businesses are also wiping down machines after each use and ensuring that they are cleaned and sanitized frequently as part of their updated cleaning and sanitizing schedule.

Using mobile apps

Some grab-and-go food businesses have been utilizing mobile apps for years, while others have never used this method of ordering and payment before. With businesses reopening and having to follow physical distancing restrictions, mobile apps are an efficient way to reduce customers ordering in-store which leads to lingering and longer wait times. This is proving to be a significant way that customers are ordering from grab-and-go food businesses around the world.

For example, looking at China during the peak of their outbreak reveals a trend towards increased mobile app usage. Starbucks in China saw mobile ordering make up 15% of all orders in January (during their time of heightened COVID-19 spread), and mobile orders made up 80% of all sales in February.

Dealing with doubts

Despite the different ways grab-and-go food businesses are adapting, some are expressing concern and doubt about the ability to do this in the long run. There are doubts about how long loyal customers will wait in a physically distanced line for food, and whether customers will be willing to do so weeks and months down the line. Keeping the customers coming is essential, especially for these types of food businesses that have lower product prices. Food businesses need enough money to operate, and for to-go businesses this means they need many daily customers to stay afloat. Businesses such as these are finding themselves in a sticky situation: they must follow physical distancing regulations in order to stay open, but risk limiting their customers in the long run by doing so. While these are valid doubts and concerns, many to-go food businesses are choosing to face the challenges head-on, adapt to the new environment and strive for success.