The post-pandemic future: Restaurants will become multi-platform one-stop shops
Andrew Oliver is president and CEO of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality
When the pandemic arrived, I was forced to shut down 26 restaurants and eight event venues across four provinces, while temporarily laying off 99 per cent of our workforce—all in 72 hours. We had no choice but to figure out how to innovate.
The real takeaway of the past few months has been the realization that a restaurant isn’t just about a kitchen and food: it’s about an idea of what hospitality can be. And this pandemic has forced us to expand and reimagine how we can deliver that idea. It turns out that it translates just as well outside of our dining room. In the future, the meals chefs serve within four walls will only be part of what restaurants offer the city. Our restaurants, for example, have expanded our takeout, delivery and grocery offerings with more chef-inspired meal kits, heat-at-home dishes and cocktail kits. We’re seeing demand for freezer-friendly comfort food all the way up to high-end at-home tasting menus. Post-Covid, I expect to see the majority of restaurants offering some level of takeout. It’s clear that many Torontonians—from young families to busy professionals—are looking for convenient ways to cook, eat and entertain in their own kitchens, especially when they’re spending more time at home than ever before.
In addition to take-home and grocery options, restaurants will turn to bespoke catering services to bring their concepts to home events, with curated selections of food, beverages and decor to fit the theme of the event, whether it’s a backyard baby shower or a birthday brunch. For corporate events, catering staff will deliver food and serve it in attendees’ homes while they log on to virtual meetings and conferences. When clients return to the office, we will be ready to offer individually packaged lunches.
People are always going to want to celebrate, so I don’t think fine dining is going anywhere. In fact, I think many people, myself included, will hold a deeper respect for the food you can’t cook yourself or have delivered to your home. Dining out will become even more of a special occasion. For example, a night at Canoe isn’t complete without taking a moment to soak up the energy of the dining room and kitchen, as well as the dazzling views of the city—which never get old, at least for me.
Even at 30 or 50 per cent capacity, Toronto’s dining rooms will need to rebuild guests’ confidence, as well as their appreciation of the restaurant experience. In addition to increasing the frequency with which we disinfect touchpoints, restaurants will adapt to various changes like digital menus, cashless payment and keeping track of walk-in guests’ names and phone numbers so we can assist with contact tracing if necessary. Many restaurants will redesign their dining rooms, adding measures like plexiglass dividers and UV lights, and retrofitting HVAC systems. This is going to be a long battle, but we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure Toronto’s culinary scene remains as vibrant, diverse and exciting as ever.