In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant industry witnessed a severe downfall. Every day the headlines reveal to us a new number of positive cases. Due to this uncontrollable spread, people have withdrawn themselves from the outside world. The entire crisis has necessitated several changes and adjustments in everyone’s lifestyle and behavior. These changes include social distancing norms and all the possible preventive measures that ensure everyone’s safety. Hence, by the time everyone readily accepts the new normal, dining out in a restaurant will be looked upon as a far sought desire or will simply remain as a subdued wish. Well, the restaurant industry took their customer’s wishes seriously and strived to demonstrate innovative avenues to deliver food in the safest way possible. The changes in the customer’s behavior made way for the restaurant industry to showcase their ingenuity. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention and this has led restaurants to utilize their ability to bring out some very creative and unconventional innovations to deliver your favorite food to you without even stepping out.
Innovations by dine-out restaurant
▪ Delivery executive’s training
In the aftermath of COVID-19, there has been a huge shortage of manpower and delivery workforce as they generally comprise of migrant laborers who returned to their hometowns due to uncertain demand and safety-related concerns. In the given situation, restaurants cannot afford to lose their workforce nor can they afford to lose a customer. So in order to ensure the safety of both, dine-out restaurants are training their delivery executives as they are the primary source to make the food reach customers.
One of the KFC India spokespeople shared their standard operating process which always kept it mandatory for all the delivery boys to undergo a sanitization process or wash their hands every 30 minutes. In addition to this, in the light of pandemic, they have initiated to note daily temperature readings of all their team members as well as the riders. They further ensure that the delivery bags are properly sanitized before every order is dispatched and insists their delivery riders to cover their face with a mask and wear gloves too.
▪ Unconventional takeout options
Once the delivery safety measures are taken care of, one needs to focus on what the customers crave for or what are they missing so that they can be served the same at their doorstep. Keeping this in mind, some of the restaurants have come up with unconventional takeout options for perishable items like eggs meat, or cheese. So such items which are repurposed into unconventional options like charcuterie boards for meat and cheese, omelets, dough, sides a la carte, or the signature sauces, ensure a similar experience to dining in. Above all, it takes care of all that a customer would eat, had they dined outside and hence such options provide close replacements.
▪ Heat and eat dishes
While innovation and creativity are picking up pace, it’s also true that not all meals can be easily packed and served in the same manner as in a restaurant. Many food items tend to lose their texture and some are difficult to pack in its original form. To counter this, restaurants have come up with heat and eat options that can be frozen or refrigerated and can be prepped prior to eating. So these pre-prepared dishes when delivered to the customer, can be stored for a later time and heated when required, and still maintain their quality, taste and texture.
▪ Pressurized transfer chamber
Some of the dishes are known by a place, you call it their specialty because you can’t find another replacement to it. In order to continue this legacy and allow customers to relish their specialty, ‘Creator’ in San Francisco has innovated their distribution system to ensure contact-free robot-made hamburgers that they are famous for. They sealed their entrance and have now paved a pressurized transfer chamber to move their meals to the collection point. The chamber acts as a shield and protects the restaurant’s interior from the outside air and has a conveyor surface that sanitizes on its own. They allow customers to place their orders via an intercom and have their sealed meal which has a double-layer packaging by picking it up from the conveyor window. This innovation helps to calm their customers’ nerves and allows them to enjoy their cherished meal.
▪ Meal kits
Restaurants are taking a step forward by deconstructing a customer’s favorite dish and delivering them in the form of meal kits. Such kits have all the ingredients packed separately with proper instruction on each. This is highly preferred by families as these kits are cost-effective and can easily serve 4-5 members. It actually contains enough food for four people at a cost that might serve two people when ordered the same at a restaurant.
▪ Pantry minimart
Most of the dine-out restaurants came out with innovations and replacements for their original food and made way to deliver the same to a customer. While some who couldn’t manage to implement these ways; they found a way to distribute their surplus inventory before closure. To make use of the surplus before it spoils, several restaurants sold their ingredients to other restaurants in bulk. Some also sold some of it to the customers directly, sometimes right from the store itself.
Innovations by delivery apps
After dine-out services, next comes the food delivery apps that do not own a food outlet but rather help the existing outlets to make their food reach consumers. Many restaurants avail the services offered by food delivery apps to expand their consumer awareness and cater to a larger audience than they would directly through their outlet. Such services help them to continue their business without investing in the expansion of the place and hence these delivery services charge a fee or commission from the restaurants for getting the business. In the wake of this pandemic, delivery apps have undergone several changes in their delivery system in order to survive as well as help the restaurants with whom they worked to push their business too. Delivery apps keep in mind the consumers want and restaurants need and have come up with the following innovations to help them both.
▪ Expand offerings
In every business, one company’s challenge works as another company’s opportunity. Hence, in these unprecedented times, delivery apps like Swiggy have expanded their offerings and by including supply of groceries and essential items to utilize their delivery competency. Swiggy rebranded its ‘Swiggy Go’ service to ‘Swiggy Genie’ which would deliver not only food but groceries and essentials as well. This helps to retain existing customers as they might not rely on outside food but will surely rely on the delivery service for getting essential items.
▪ B2B Marketing
In order to help consumer stores with their sales, delivery apps tie-up with stores and use their delivery fleet to sell their products and satisfy consumer needs. Swiggy has partnered with Vishal mart and Marico. Similarly, Uber cab service has partnered with Flipkart and Bigbasket to facilitate the delivery of essential commodities.
▪ Hygiene rating
The food delivery apps not just help restaurants deliver their items but also take safety measures and advise them to follow strict hygiene precautions while handling and packaging the food item to be delivered. In that context, Zomato provides a ‘hygiene rating’ filter option on its app which allows customers to check out the restaurants that maintain maximum hygiene levels. They further ensure the availability of hand sanitizers to all those who are associated with them for handling food before it reaches the customer. Similarly, Swiggy ensures safety by providing free medical consultation to the delivery agents by utilizing their partnerships at this time.
▪ Contactless Delivery
This is one additional benefit that the delivery apps provide in order to ensure complete contactless delivery. If the customers wish to avoid any contact with the delivery agent, they can avail of this option by paying online for the order and collecting it once the delivery agent delivers the package and leaves your premises. Both Swiggy and Zomato offer this service for their customers.
Other than providing such additional benefits, Zomato noted in a press note that they continuously train and educate their delivery agents to implement best personal hygiene practices, including detailing the frequency for washing their hands and using sanitizers. They also train them on what to do when they develop any of the COVID-19 symptoms. Swiggy also trains them on hygiene-related practices and also advice on proper methods of respiratory hygiene to be maintained while delivering a food product and how to identify COVID symptoms in them as well as others.
In order to deliver food, proper packaging is a must. One can come up with number of innovations and creative solutions in the variety of food and follow all the required hygiene practices, but in order to make the food deliverable without spilling or spoiling it, packaging must be taken care of.
▪ FSMS (Food Safety Management Systems)
Such a system helps restaurants to manage food safety and contamination risks. This system includes all the conditions that are primary to maintain a hygienic food processing environment and includes a list of necessary activities that should be implemented to achieve those standards. It tests all the packaging material as well and confirms whether they are contaminated or safe to use. Nestle undergoes a thorough test and risk assessment of all the packaging material to ensure an uncompromised and safe experience.
▪ IPP (Innovative Pandemic Packaging)
IPP is an innovative packaging option that is specially curated for the pandemic situation and acts as a very helpful, comfortable, convenient, and an empathetic packaging option. It focuses on the customer experience and merges branding and graphics that assure a memorable experience of receiving it. In the times of contactless delivery, companies fail to maintain customer’s connection with the brand. Engagement is critical to a brand’s survival and so IPP focus on creating positive brand awareness which helps to stay connected with customers even when they are far from the restaurants. An IPP model begins with understanding the shortcomings and problems of a customer with the current food or beverage packaging and focus on changing it to provide a satisfying delivery. IPP transforms the product’s packaging into something more than just a product carrier which is usually thrown away once the food is consumed. Such creative and empathetic packaging helps to add to the brand value
▪ Modified atmosphere packaging
This packaging solution is helpful to store sweets and other perishable items that might spoil if not covered properly. Haldirams is working towards the development of modified atmosphere packaging to increase the shelf life of their famous sweets. They are also working to find a way for pre-packaging of sweets so that they are directly deliverable and customers don’t have to wait in line and can maintain social distancing. Haldirams has already been using automation to pack their snacks or namkeen products and are now targeting to semi-automate their sweet plant as well.
▪ Bento boxes
For sushi fans who crave fresh fishes cooked with a chef’s special skills, the bento box is the best alternative to that. On the closure of the restaurants, there is a shift to serving through bento boxes or chirashi bowls which have been a common form of home-packed meal in Japan. A bento box usually comprise of a box with several compartments that hold fish, meat, rice, noodles, and cooked vegetables along.