As residents in some states begin to get a taste of their old lives back—with loosened restrictions on dining out, nonessential businesses opening and folks returning to work—others remain in lockdown. A clear picture of how the coronavirus pandemic will impact foodservice remains somewhat elusive, as unknowns about the severity and duration of the outbreak persist. However, a recent white paper from Technomic sheds some light on what the future may look like. Read on for some insights from that report.
Labor woes will continue as foodservice operations lose staff to furloughs and layoffs and those workers potentially seek jobs in industries that are reopening more quickly, Technomic predicts. Other effects on the horizon: a renewed focus on disposable packaging and prepackaged menu items, the slashing of self-serve areas, more reliance on takeout and delivery and a move away from one of the biggest trends of the last several years: meal customization.
In 2020, consumer spending in foodservice will decrease between 18% and 26% year over year, the researcher forecasts, with as much as $234 billion lost.
Despite these headwinds, there are a number of things operators can do to position themselves for a better outcome, Technomic says. That includes cross-training staff to serve multiple roles, focusing on menu items that generate the most profit and can travel well, taking stock of which areas in an eatery are vulnerable to customer concerns about hygiene and addressing those, and working to maintain relationships with distributors.
Still, the outbreak’s impact won’t be felt the same across all areas of foodservice, or even all segments of noncommercial. Business and industry eateries will “be slow to return to pre-pandemic levels” as a large number of employees continue to work from home and will likely return to the workplace at different times, Technomic says. It also predicts a slow recovery for recreation feeding, which “will likely underperform for the next several years” and will be one of the last areas of foodservice to reopen.
The impact on healthcare foodservice will be less drastic, though shifts in labor and service models can be anticipated at hospitals as visitors are able to return and more normal dining operations start again, Technomic says. Long-term care facilities should see less of a long-term impact, while nursing homes may see “stronger than average performance.”
And when it comes to feeding within educational facilities, a lot depends on how the school calendar shakes out. If K-12 schools are able to reopen in the fall, that segment could see less long-term disruption than others, Technomic says. However, the financial fallout from the coronavirus will play a major role in operations, and FSDs can expect a “likely dramatic increase” in students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Similar to K-12, a quicker recovery in the college segment is predicated on resuming in-person classes in the fall. In addition, college operators may have some marketing challenges to overcome: A recent survey by software provider Nutrislice showed that more than three-fourths of returning college students are concerned about buying food on campus due to COVID-19.