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Challenges the Restaurant Industry Will Face in 2021



2020 brought about many changes in virtually every industry. It had to be that way because the pandemic shuttered many companies. Some of them were able to restructure themselves in various ways, and they continue on in 2021, albeit with new business models.

The restaurant and food industries faced unprecedented challenges last year. Many eateries had to close for good, while larger corporations, like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and so forth, weathered the storm.

Now, America seems to be on the comeback trail. The two approved vaccines are starting to make their way across the country, and the presidential election is over. Stability is hopefully not far around the corner.

Still, the food industry faces an uncertain future. Let’s look at some of the restaurant challenges that should dominate the conversation in 2021.

It Will Be Tough Opening Restaurants This Year

In past years, if you wanted to open a restaurant, you had to get funding for it. Next up, you needed to find an appropriate space. After buying things like dependable industrial ovens and hiring a wait staff, you could probably open and start serving customers without any further difficulties.

None of that will be so easy this year. In theory, you can do all of those same things. However, you will probably encounter issues every step of the way.

Possible New Restaurant Roadblocks

You may not find funding as quickly or easily as you could pre-pandemic. Some banks and credit unions might not be so hasty to give you money until nearly everyone in America has a vaccine. Money lending institutions understand that a restaurant that opens before then could easily fail.

There are certainly many potential restaurant spaces available. In fact, you can probably get one dirt-cheap in many cities. You might run into some problems when you try to hire your staff, though.

Many restaurant workers are struggling financially right now. Bartenders, servers, cooks, dishwashers, sous-chefs, etc., are all sitting at home, waiting for a chance to get back to work.

However, just because you’re opening a new restaurant and you have a job for them, that doesn’t mean all of them will want to come back to work yet. Some of them might have immunocompromised conditions, or they may live with someone who has one. Even if they are desperate for money, they may not be willing to come on board till they get a vaccine, and that could be several months away.

When Will People Be Ready to Come Back?

Even if you can open a new restaurant space with no significant problems, the next issue is how many customers you will get. Once this pandemic is behind us and everyone has had a vaccine who wants one, people will probably return to dining out. The time table is the real question.

Someone who has coronavirus concerns won’t leave their home to go to a restaurant until they have the vaccine. Even once they’ve received one, though, does that mean they will be ready to eat at a bustling diner or pizzeria that very afternoon?

Industry experts have definitely weighed in on this question, but the reality is, no one knows. They don’t know how quickly things will “return to normal,” even once the vaccines are readily available. The restaurant industry does not know the answer to that query, but neither do many other niches, like movie theaters, museums, bars, and more.

What About Delivery Services?

While the pandemic has swept across the country, delivery services have come to the forefront. Ones like Door Dash, Uber Eats, and GrubHub have done extremely well, especially since they have come up with contactless delivery.

Once the pandemic is over, some restaurant industry experts wonder whether people will abandon this food consumption business model and return to dining out. Presumably, some will, but perhaps there will be a large population segment that will want nothing to do with returning to the old ways.

They might simply feel like dining out isn’t worth it. If you want to dine at a restaurant, you might feel like you have to shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and generally make yourself presentable. You do not need to do any of that if you stay home and eat.

Also, you can drink your own alcohol, so you don’t have to pay the outrageous restaurant markups. You don’t have to tip your server or bartender. At home, you can sit in bed and eat if you want to, and no one cares if you’re wearing bunny slippers.

What Does the Future Hold?

When we think about the food industry’s future, a combination of the old and new ways is probably the most realistic expectation. A year from now, or perhaps in eighteen months, when everyone has had the vaccine that wants to get it, many people will return to restaurants. They will miss dining out and the date night opportunities it affords.

Restaurants will not seem like such risky prospects to banks and credit unions anymore. They will be okay with lending money for such a business endeavor, and there will also be chefs and entrepreneurs who are okay with borrowing it.

These new restaurant owners will find plenty of potential employees and the equipment and spaces they need. There’s never any restaurant worker shortage once there’s no pandemic danger.

At the same time, some people who in the past would go out to eat frequently might not do it as much. They might like ordering in, and they’ll no longer feel like it’s worth it to dress up to overpay for cocktails.

Some fast-food restaurants that in the past didn’t bother with delivery will continue to do it. They’ve learned they can take advantage of this readily-available revenue stream.

A couple of years down the line, the restaurant industry may be much as we remember it, but with a few distinct differences. Perhaps that is for the best, but only time will tell.

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