Nearly two years ago, the world as we knew it shut down. In the past, discussions about the swine flu, SARS and avian flu surfaced, but the heightened concern was immediately met with indifference as another cataclysmic pandemic had spared the human race.
In March 2020, masking, sheltering in place and social distancing were all new terms. Chances are, we knew someone or of someone who had fallen ill or died from the virus. While the mortality rate was low, the mere fact that a vaccine or treatment was in the future incited fear and sadness in society.
One of the industries hardest hit was foodservice and hospitality. Over the course of the last two years, hundreds of restaurants have shuttered permanently and of the 16 million workers of 2020, many have yet to ever return.
The positive signs of 2021 is that we saw a vaccine and the variants that emerged gave us more confidence that comes with nearly a year of crisis experience.
From a macro standpoint, the unemployment rate stands at 3.9% from December 2021, personal consumption expenditures are strong and the economy’s latest growth reading was 5.7% for all of 2021, a banner year for recovery.
Consumers More Upbeat on Returning to Restaurants
With specifics to foodservice, we undertook a survey of foodservice consumers in January 2022 and found that the state of mind of the patron is also slightly upbeat compared to a year earlier. For example:
- Fear of infection dropped to 56% from 67% for diners.
- 38% expect to resume normal eating-out habits, compared to 48% a year ago.
- Today, 71% feel safe in a restaurant compared to 61% last year.
From a business standpoint, operators still face state-by-state and metropolitan barriers. Restaurants in colder climates that can’t comfortably seat diners outside on a subzero day are in a holding pattern until Omicron and other variants either disappear or become a part of life.
The broad use of mobile ordering and delivery has come at a time when workers are tethered to their desks and the return to the office continues to be delayed. This is an ideal condition for continuing to patronize a favorite restaurant through the use of online ordering and delivery.
In 2022, we likely are not out of Covid’s path yet, but with each day (and a little luck) our industry is inching closer to a sense of safety and pre-Covid normalcy.
Tim Powell is a Managing Principal of Foodservice IP. Tim serves as a trusted foodservice adviser to management at several food companies. To learn more about FSIP’s Convenience Store Foodservice Study, click here.
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