How restaurants are reacting to the coronavirus outbreak

This is Part I of a two-part series on how the coronavirus is affecting the food and beverage industry. Read on for coverage of the restaurant industry, and look for Part II with coverage of the food retail industry on Wednesday.

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread, restaurants are taking extra precautions to protect their staff and customers. While some consumers may cut back on dining in restaurants to avoid crowds, it’s likely that restaurants will serve an important role in feeding people during the outbreak as more diners to turn to delivery.

Restaurant dining rooms are among the many public spaces that will likely see crowds diminish as more people heed advice from public health officials to limit outings and avoid large gatherings. However, Chinese restaurants have already seen a disproportionately large loss of business since reports first began to circulate about COVID-19 spreading in China. 

Restaurants in the Chinatowns of major US cities have been most affected, and once-busy eateries are reporting dwindling crowds. Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City’s Chinatown has seen sales drop about 40%, owner Wilson Tang said in an interview with Bon Appetit.

“I’ve been using #supportchinatown, which was created by the Chinatown Business Improvement District, and doing my part as a community leader to squash the fear,” he said.

Other Chinese restaurants in the city are hoping to shore up sales by boosting delivery business, giving patrons the opportunity to eat in their own homes, Eater reported.

The delivery strategy is one that all types of eateries are likely to embrace as the outbreak spreads to more cities. “People are going to rely more on delivery,” Technomic’s Joe Pawlak told Restaurant Business. A survey released last week by the consulting firm found that 32% of consumers said they plan to eat at restaurants less often out of concern about the spread of COVID-19. Restaurants and delivery services in China began offering the option of “non-contact deliveries” last month, and US delivery services Postmates and Instacart have followed suit, CNN reported.

While delivery may offer eateries a way to maintain cash flow, it's imperative that foodservice operators follow safety protocols in their restaurants to safeguard against the spread of the virus. The National Restaurant Association published a resource page and created a guide for owners and operators with advice on how to keep employees and customers safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised basic precautions, such as hand-washing for at least 20 second and disinfecting frequently touched objects. In addition to these safety measures, several restaurant companies have put additional provisions in place. Starbucks announced that it will halt the use of personal drinkware to minimize risk, and McDonald’s enacted stricter cleaning procedures. A handful of companies including Starbucks and McDonald’s have also backed out of attending conferences or opted for virtual meetings over in-person gatherings, Nation’s Restaurant News reported.

To stay up-to-date on how coronavirus is affecting the restaurant industry and what actions operators should take, visit the resources pages of the National Restaurant Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For daily restaurant industry updates in your inbox, sign up for Restaurant Smartbrief.

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