A version of this article appeared on 2/2/21 in Back of House News, a free weekly newsletter from Back of House with news, resources, and more curated by our team. It goes out to thousands of restaurant operators each Tuesday morning. Subscribe today to get our coverage of the restaurant technology space directly to your inbox!
The Industry Appetizer
A quick snack on some headlines that caught our editors' eyes this week.
2021 bounceback?: Maybe! Hopefully! At least somewhat, anyway. Pent-up demand for restaurant dining, along with improving safety, will in 2021 generate a projected 11% rebound in food service sales from 2020. That's per the National Restaurant Association's latest State of the Restaurant Industry Report. The projected total of $731 billion won't make up for the 24% plunge of last year, though, and overall sales will still be 15% below 2019's totals. When surveyed, American adults said they were still expecting to order take-out more than in the past, even as vaccines roll out and the pandemic presumably subsides. By the way, the final figure on restaurant and bar closures last year? A brutal 110,000. (Restaurant Dive)
This Valentine's Day, NYC will dine in: The biggest restaurant city in America will get to head back indoors, at least partially, for the second-biggest restaurant day of the year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the all-clear for New York City restaurants to allow indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Sunday, February 14 (which traditionally trails only Mother's Day for restaurant sales). The green light comes after two (nasty-cold) months in which New Yorkers could dine only outdoors, as Covid numbers rose. Restaurants and bars were, however, snubbed in their long-running request to lift the requirement that they close by 10pm. (Restaurant Hospitality)
2020 was exceptionally deadly for CA cooks: The occupation with the highest spike in mortality last year in California was restaurant cooks, per a new study by the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco. Researchers found that 22% more working adults died than normal in the period examined (March to October). That jump was 39% for workers in food and agriculture, and the 828 cooks who died in that period was 60% higher than what should be expected. While the deaths were not all necessarily Covid-related, it doesn't make the losses any less tragic. (SF Gate)
The restaurant software, hardware, and solutions stories we've been chewing on lately.
QR & self-serve, a 2020 tag-team: The NRA's latest surveys of the industry show that in the past year 50% of restaurants have added QR code capabilities. The tech may not in itself be enticing customers to visit, but which is helping restaurants streamline orders and billing at a time when they're struggling to keep talented staffers on the job. The industry association finds that about 2/3rds of diners say they still prefer to order with a real-live server ... but, anecdotally, customers who use self-service may order more, pay faster, and ultimately leave happier. Says one payment platform executive: "That’s a pretty wicked value proposition." (Restaurant Dive)
Covid vs. the future of restaurant design: Shoulder-to-shoulder seating in dining rooms... doorknobs on bathrooms... long walks from the front door to the take-out counter? All on notice. Restaurant spaces designed before the pandemic may soon be obsolete, if architects are correct about how the pandemic will shape the psychology (and thus, the layouts) of dining spaces. Naturally the big question to consider, if customers come to expect partitions, social distance, and moveable tables: What's it going to cost? And what other sources of revenue that restaurants ginned up during the pandemic (retailing prepared foods, slinging to-go drinks, flogging merch) will have to become permanent as well, to make the economics work? (Eater Seattle)
Remember the automat: The throwback cafeteria-style concept always felt like one part lunchtime, one part game show, and over the past couple decades, it very much fell out of fashion. But now, these restaurant vending machines might be poised for a comeback as a contactless way to dine. The newest to open, in Jersey City, New Jersey, via a company called American Kitchen, will allow you to order ahead, pay online, and open the machine by code. It's a retro-futuristic update that may see yet more imitators pop up soon. (The Spoon)
Back of House Banter
Resources for restaurant operators, created and curated by our team.
Beat the cold, heat the patio: There's no bad weather, only bad clothes, right? Wrong, it's February, the weather's terrible, invest in some heaters to make your outdoor diners feel snug. Here's how to shop for the best one for you. (Back of House)
See the light on UVC: Some restaurants are adopting UVC light as a way to sanitize surfaces and kill airborne germs. Here are the basics on UVC light you might want to know. (Back of House)
Going ghost: Wondering about how to set up a ghost kitchen? We've got the rundown, right here. (Back of House)