Innovating Out of Necessity

How Businesses are Adapting to Stay Relevant

Published Thursday, September 17, 2020
by Phillip G. Mike

The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses and individuals to take action to adapt, survive and ultimately thrive. Many of these changes have created and accelerated innovations that have opened new revenue streams or given people the confidence to resume activities again.

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Restaurants have been one of the most disrupted industries by the coronavirus. To survive, eateries have made radical changes to their operations to keep their doors open. Takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery have surged as some of the safe ways for customers can order out and support local restaurants.

Adapt Quickly and Confidently

Many restaurants applied readily available strategies and technology to quickly adjust to new standards and assure customers that they are safe to patronize, giving them an advantage over competitors slower to adapt. At Flanigan’s, a casual-dining chain in South Florida, instead of laying off servers, the chain cross-trained staff to adapt to new demands and operations. Waiters were trained to be delivery drivers, answer phones, pack food orders and perform other tasks. The restaurant mapped out deliveries over their 23 locations and the new drivers developed a system to ensure that no delivery was more than three miles away. Having their own staff delivery food provided greater assurance to customers that the food was delivered with more care than if it was sent out from a third-party company.

Additionally, Flanigan’s manager and server schedules had to adapt to accommodate their new revenue stream. To ensure they had the appropriate number of staff working, when capacity mandates changed, particularly if they were lowered back to a previous level, the restaurant analyzed data and revenue from the previous level. Outdoor to-go stations, new traffic patterns in the parking lot, POS systems and dining rooms were developed to maximize social distancing.

Through these changes, the chain increased their customer base during the pandemic.

Menus Transformed

COVID-19 has forced restaurants to adjust their menus to meet customer demands. Meal kits that allow eaters to assemble their own meals for a presentation that isn’t always possible in delivery have risen in popularity. Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar has turned to TV dinner-style meals with their normal food options. Moe’s Southwest Grill divides its ingredients to allow customers to dress their own nachos with assistance from an instructional video. I Love Juice Bar is serving its Health Kit including immune boosting drinks and shots. Additionally, some restaurants have assembled “heat and eat” dishes to give customers the best dining experience at home. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, a Chicago-based multi-concept operator, unveiled a new service called Lettuce Take Care of You, in which customers can order three meals—each that can feed a family of four— for the week and pick them up at curbside.

In states where restaurants must sell food in order to sell alcohol, some eateries are offering tiny items like a cheese puff for five cents or a single onion ring for fifty cents to bring in patrons who want a beer to support their local spot. Hunter’s Inn in Meadville, Pa., created the “Here for a Beer” menu to comply with the mandate and views it as a way to satisfy customers who want to support the restaurant during the pandemic.

QR codes allow for customers to order from menus hands-free. Patrons can use their phones to scan the encrypted image at their table and download the menu, send orders directly to kitchen staff, and pay without needing to directly interact with staff. The process can cut down on mealtimes with quicker payments and shorter waits for food.

Restaurant sales are still down compared to pre-pandemic levels, reports Datassential’s July COVID-19 report, and although roughly 80% of operators said delivery alone was not making up for the lost dining room traffic, nearly half said sales figures have stabilized or grown compared to the previous month. Many operated estimate it will take at leastsix more months before traffic recovers to pre-pandemic levels.

Opportunities remain for restaurants as, for the first time since 2015, the cost of eating at home has increased more than the cost of eating out, presenting some relief for restaurant operators, reports Technomic.

ENTERTAINMENT

Events and concerts have been dramatically reimagined how to provide a fun and safe environment.

At the restaurant, winery and event space hybrid, City Winery, every attendee receives a temperature check and answers a health questionnaire when they arrive. The venue requires reservations, staggers groups entering and leaving, and allows attendees to pre-order food and drinks to a preset “pod” table set eight feet apart from each other.

Some venues are using a drive-in model to let attendees watch concerts, movies and art exhibits from the safety of their own cars. In the U.K., drive-in movies have taken place at historic castles and venues to provide a scenic approach to enjoying films. In Toronto, the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit recently announced the world’s first drive-in art experience. Patrons can attend Gogh by Car, an immersive art, light, sound and movement show. The venue can accommodate 14 vehicles at a time. Participants must park and turn off their engines to enjoy the 35-minute show.

NEW HOTEL TECHNOLOGY

Hotel occupancy rates are slowly rebounding, albeit significantly down from their normal mark. In mid-July, hotels reported a 45.9% occupancy rate—38% below July 2019 figures, but double the rates of April, reports STR, a lodging industry research firm. To assure travelers in their safety, hotels and resorts are using new technologies and strategies to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Chatbots and robots are now able to fulfill many guests’ basic needs. Hotels are utilizing FAQ bots to address accommodations questions and COVID-19 questions and concerns. This technology, along with virtual reality—used especially for virtual tours—have been utilized to guide prospective guests’ decisions.

New technologies are also making it possible to have a safe hotel stay. Grace is a new platform that allows guests to message hotel staff in real-time with their app of choice, such as WhatsApp and Messenger. This enables hotel stay to quickly respond to guests without needing information like name and room number. Guests can text “extra blanket” to the hotel for it to be fulfilled. The platform also has chatbot feature. The NevoTouchless lets hotel guests use services through their own mobile devices. Guests can pair their devices with in-room TVs to use as remote controllers, access in-room reading, order room service and much more. KT Corporation has just released its second-generation GiGA Genie hotel robot, named “N Bot,” which goes about delivering water bottles, fresh towels and other amenities to guests at Seoul’s Novotel Ambassador Dongdaemun Hotels & Residences.

To increase social distancing, hotels like Sweden’s Stadt, have allowed guests to occupy modified hotel rooms to serve as a pop-up restaurant to allow parties of up to 12 enjoy their meals socially distanced from other travelers.

CLEANING AND SAFETY TECHNOLOGY AND STANDARDS
New technology and strategies that keep people and businesses safe have been rapidly introduced to the mainstream.

Ultraviolet light technology has been implemented by hotels and restaurants in different ways. The Safeology Tower is a roughly 6-foot tower that can eliminate up to 99.9% of indoor surface and airborne pathogens. The device can be controlled and monitored via Wi-Fi. The Cleanse Portal is a free-standing walkthrough arch sanitizer, similar to a metal detector, that uses UVC to kill bacteria and viruses on participants’ skin and clothes in a little as 20 seconds. The device can be stationed near entrances, internal doorways and other high-traffic areas to disinfect people and goods entering an area.

Restaurants have also utilized third-party cleaning services to spray EPA-approved disinfectants several times a week. The mist is often called a “cold fog.”

Ecolab recently launched the Ecolab Science Certified Program for businesses, like hotels and restaurants, to educate them in COVID-19 health and safety practices and certify them if they pass its rigorous criteria. Program guidelines follow those set by the CDC, FDA and local health departments. Providing assurance to customers that your facility and employees are adhering protocols can give an advantage over competitors.

IMPACT OF WORKING FROM HOME

When the pandemic ends, one-in-six workers is projected to continue working from home or co-working at least two days each week, reports a recent survey by Harvard Business School economists. A survey by freelancing platform Upwork finds that one-fifth of the workforce could be entirely remote after the pandemic. As a consequence, without needing to commute, more workers could use the time to begin their own side gigs or businesses, says the Atlantic.

Additionally, declining business travel and spending may continue to harm airlines, hotels and restaurants as well as the leisure and hospitality industries, says economist David Autor, a co-chair of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future. Urban restaurants, city clubs and industries that rely on weekday lunches, happy hours, shopping and events may be negatively impacted by work-from-home policies. This office-adjacent workforce represents 30 million individuals.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

With fewer entertainment and recreation opportunities available and increased attention on health due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are looking for new ways to be active and healthy, unlocking renewed interest in health and wellness programs and accelerating industry trends.

Slightly more than 35% of respondents to a recent Business Insider survey have cancelled or are considering cancelling their gym memberships and half won’t return upon their gym reopening. According to a recent survey from consumer-focused investment bank Harrison Co., 40% of respondents who tried fitness at home for the first time during COVID-19 won’t go back to their fitness facility. Although these statistics may pose a threat to traditional fitness programs, new opportunities exist to connect individuals’ health with their exercise and lifestyle regimes.

Kevin Steele, Ph.D., president of Steele Associates and co-director of Club Industry’s Healthcare & Fitness Integration Summit, recommends the fitness industry offer immune boosting lifestyle strategies that capitalize on society’s increased health consciousness. These programs provide expertise from health and wellness professionals to reduce obesity and metabolic disorders. Steele adds operators should build relationships with health care professionals to communicate the role fitness professional have in supporting doctors. The crop of home exercisers also presents a new marketing opportunity for the industry, by highlighting clean facilities and a wide variety of workouts that can be per- formed on site.

Mental Wellness

Throughout the pandemic, there has been increasing emphasis on mental wellness and improving one’s disposition. CBInsights, a technology trends prediction firm, reports that mental health-focused startups have generated more than $1 billion in funding in the first half of this year. Today, therapy apps like TalkSpace, BetterHelp and Amwell allow patients to call, text and video chat with professional counselors from their own home and often at a lower cost than traditional appointments. Rethink My Therapy offers unlimited therapy for $60 per month. These frictionless platforms give greater access to the resources people need but may be reluctant to seek; according to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of those living with a mental disorder never get help from a health professional.

Headsets and bracelets are emerging as options to help improve mental wellness. Feel, an emotion-sensing wrist- band, can monitor a user’s emotions by measuring physiological signals throughout the day. Cognitive-behavioral therapy apps can pair with devices like these to help those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Other apps like Headspace, Calm and Sanity & Self provide audio to help listeners relax and work in conjunction with breathing exercises, visual aids and journaling guides. Wisdo, an Israeli social network, connects individuals struggling with mental wellness to help overcome their issues. The chatbot Woebot assists users through difficult times by having sympathetic and uplifting conversations.

The app now has more than 500,000 users. Additionally, some apps are geared specifically toward the black community, such as Ayana, Drift-wellness + sleep and Liberate, to help users overcome racial challenges and to capture a growing number of people of color who are focused on improving their well-beings.

These tech approaches to emotional wellness are likely to grow in popularity as norms shift and younger generations like millennials embrace their convenience.

OPPORTUNITIES AHEAD

While the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed business plans and strategies due to uncertainty, changes in consumer behavior and new safety guidelines, forward-thinking business are seizing opportunities to create new products and processes that capitalize on these trends. By analyzing and adjusting to this new landscape, clubs can enhance their practices and programming to thrive in the weeks, months and years ahead.

 

 

 

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