How the Covid-19 Pandemic is Changing Fast Food
By William Vargas
Covid-19 is the most catastrophic event the world has seen in decades; the fact that the disease is global means that people worldwide are having to adapt to and deal with a reality that has not existed for more than a hundred years. Businesses are no exception, especially restaurants and fast food chains in particular.
- For health information, consult the CDC
Changes to operations, policies, and pricing aren’t instant or easy, and will almost certainly change how restaurants are run for years to come - but how will this affect the average customer’s experience?
Companies have begun to aggressively introduce new safety policies to make sure their customers and employees are safe. These measures include more formal rules about hand-washing and other cleaning practices. Virtually every company has posted Covid 19 information on their website
- Starbucks has enhanced cleaning, new safety protocols, and now requires most of their employees to wash their hands every thirty minutes. Many stores require app purchases and no more bringing your own mugs. Starbucks Coupons
- McDonalds requires restaurant crew to wear masks and gloves. They has started hourly hand washing, cleaning door handles, tables, and self-serve kiosks more often. Many locations are only open for take out. McDonalds Coupons
- Other restaurants have attempted to reduce customer-to-customer contact (removing reusable cups, indoor seating, etc). Burger King Coupons
New Safety Routines
Because of the nature of the pandemic, the return to indoor seating and normal operations will be slow, and could even extend months into next year. Sanitation practices put into place will also remain for a considerable period of time after the pandemic is “over”.
The average consumer should expect increased sanitation standards in many restaurants, maybe mandated by law or cultural expectations, along with a slight increase in food prices because of recovery and development costs; these changes might last for as long as the rest of the coming decade, considering the length of time the world has already spent locked down.
With most restaurants unable to offer in-person service, delivery has become the only option for a significant part of the market. Additionally, without the convenience of physical locations, it’s become increasingly difficult to communicate with customers - and without a normal means for offering deals, coupons, news, and promotions, most businesses have created apps and websites to fill the gap.
In a way, this has led to SARS-CoV-2 acting as an accelerant for the adoption of digital marketing and sales tools. While most restaurants had websites and many had apps before Covid, the removal of physical means of income has forced restaurants to become far more dependent on online sales and make the migration more quickly.
You can expect that many more online options will be available after the pandemic; companies may also invest less into physical advertising and coupon printing in the near future, so be sure to take advantage of the new digital options.
Restaurants are feeling increased pressure to adapt to the pandemic’s new conditions; February sales didn’t see a hit in growth due to the virus, but in the months since it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to match their previous profits.
Most companies have been forced to close their interior seating options entirely, sometimes mandated by law, and drive-thru/pickup has become a choke point for service. As such, more and more establishments have begun to focus on delivery to make ends meet.
Patrons can expect that even after the pandemic delivery will remain more important than before; similar to the luxury of working at home, people may be less willing to drive a long ways to eat on-location after having their food delivered directly to their doorstep for so long. Additionally, third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and others will become more mainstream, possibly leading to an increase in price.
Restaurant food quality on-location may either decrease slightly because of increased remote demand, or additional jobs will open up to accommodate. Most changes will regress to the mean over time, but you can be sure that delivery apps won’t give up their considerably increased business and market share; they’ll find a way to use that money to grow even larger.
Most Popular Food Items
The world’s taste in food has also shifted during the pandemic; while comfort foods and fast food like hamburgers, mac and cheese, pastas, pizzas, and other unhealthy delights have become increasingly popular, so have healthy meals like salads, veggie dishes, and other plant-centric dishes.
- McDonalds, and
- Taco Bell
These have all seen massive jumps in patronage, and still make up the majority of the most popular restaurants countrywide- Sonic’s Milkshakes, Chick-Fil-A’s Waffle Fries, and Taco Bell’s Burritos are still being sold by the thousands daily.
New Favorite Dishes
- Oat Milk
- Acai Bowls
- Impossible or Beyond Meat Burgers
- Spicy Chicken Wings
- Fried Chicken Sandwich
- Schwarma Wrap
- Orange Chicken
- Buffalo Chicken Pizza
- Boba Tea
Fruit-and-veggie delivery services and places like Sweetgreen (a make-your-own-salad restaurant) have also seen major growth, however; it seems that people are still eager to maintain a balanced diet.
These trends will probably have very minimal impact over the long term. After the pandemic has subsided and businesses are back to normal, consumer preferences will also probably revert to an even distribution. The largest possible change will probably be in the way new online ordering apps are structured; they may be altered to suggest popular quarantine foods more often, at least for a few months.
In summary, changes to the industry will be subtle, but noticeable. The economic stress dealt to restaurants will probably lead to intensified innovation and change in the years to come; additionally,
- Restaurants focused around health and/or comfort foods will probably see a small boost in sales and market share after the pandemic.
- Food delivery will become more common, and possibly more expensive; delivery services will continue to enjoy a huge boost to business.
- More restaurants will have apps and websites, and physical advertising / coupon printing will be further de-emphasized.
- And restaurants will reopen with a further emphasis on sanitation and a slight price increase.
You can use this information in a few ways; perhaps most importantly, it may be easier to find coupons digitally than physically post-Covid; signing up for rewards programs and mail lists are excellent ideas. And even though delivery will be more readily available, keep in mind that by ordering pickup you earn yourself a lower price and fresher food.
What are your thoughts on the future of fast food? Do you own or work at a struggling business? Feel free to leave a comment below, and stay safe.