By Kerry Needs   |  
June 24th, 2020

How the hospitality industry is using safety to retain customer loyalty and reopen

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s fair to say that cafes, restaurants and bars took the first hit when the pandemic began to take hold. It started with increased social distancing, and the refusal of those who had recently traveled to countries where the virus was rampant.

When COVID-19 then took hold of several countries rapidly, it created a domino effect in the hospitality industry. Businesses quickly closed, independent cafes and bars suffered huge losses of trade, and thousands lost their jobs.

Cleanliness was always key, but now it is paramount. The businesses that will survive this pandemic will be those who remain flexible and adaptable.

Even for businesses that continue to remain open, there is apprehension in the air. With less tourism, the economic impact has stretched even the most popular of hotel chains, restaurants, and public bars. Customers are choosing to save their money, protect their health, and stay indoors – this has led to a number of innovative solutions by the industry.

The hospitality industry is adapting by changing its business model at a rapid pace. Restaurants have been converted into drive-thrus, cafes turned into home delivery services, and online shopping has skyrocketed. Stringent cleaning procedures are now in place for everyone, particularly for those who handle food and beverages.

How has the hospitality industry been affected?

The hospitality industry has been dramatically transformed by COVID-19. Here’s just a glimpse into how the industry is reaching to meet the needs of the consumer:


Any place where we eat, drink and socialize not only needs to be clean but needs to feel like a safe space to relax in. It’s always been key, but COVID-19 has changed the way we now view these public spaces, potentially forever.

For example, perhaps hotel customers will now want ‘keyless and contactless check-in and checkout and few personalized interactions,’ as the pandemic unfolds.

Increasing cleanliness for staff as well as customers is essential, and the businesses who are quick to respond by building new processes will gain customer loyalty.

Social distancing

When the pandemic hit, some businesses opted to freeze operations altogether, whilst they understood more about the potential risk.

To turn a good profit, high-end Sydney restaurant, Nomad, needs an average of 1,500 covers per week, or a full 180-seat restaurant across two sittings from Wednesday to Saturday. When COVID-19 was becoming a looming threat, executive chef, Jacqui Challinor, made the difficult decision to put the business into hibernation.

Many restaurant owners across Australia are not able to accommodate the new social distancing measures.

Social distancing measures have also changed the habits of customers wanting to dine in a public space. Will they want to stay in a hotel that has a small cafe area, and the inability to stay two meters, or six feet apart?

A reduced spending capacity also means a re-evaluation of the hospitality sector as a whole.

Customers are considering whether they want to take the risk to mix and mingle, especially if they have or are close to someone with underlying health conditions.

The death of cash

The hospitality industry is rethinking how they take payments. Handling physical cash brings increased risk.

Since the coverage of the pandemic, card payments in the UK have sharply risen, and now account for half of all purchase transactions.

Increased concerns around handling cash means that smaller cafes, restaurants, and accommodation providers may have to quickly adapt
to new payment measures, and include alternative payment options.

The increase in popularity of contactless payment is shifting consumer behavior and may affect who is willing to spend at various establishments.

Reduced global travel

With self-isolation and quarantine measures now associated with air travel, the hospitality trade has naturally been concerned about the impact this will have on the industry.

Hotels that rely on out of town visitors will be forced to re-evaluate their proposition. For example, one restaurant in Cancun, Mexico is giving free nights stay and free meals as part of a special deal to entice customers back post COVID-19.

How the hospitality industry is adapting to retain customer loyalty

In cafes, restaurants, and bars, the need to be adaptable has been a pressing concern since the beginning of COVID-19. Getting everyone safely back to business and continuing to generate revenue has been the main challenge of the industry. After all, going out for dinner at a restaurant could be a potential life or death decision.

Takeout and contactless delivery

With potential staff shortages, many have opted towards offering a takeaway service to maintain a skeleton staff structure, and to protect customers from lingering threats.

UK high street chain Marks and Spencer, for example, has reopened it’s cafes in the form of a takeaway service, including perspex screens at tills.

Online ordering has led to an increase in contactless delivery, and many businesses are leaning on the gig economy in order to satisfy customer demand.

Flexible delivery options

We’ve also seen the rise of the ‘virtual restaurant’ or ‘ghost kitchen’, whereby entire kitchens are used purely to serve the likes of Ubereats, Deliveroo and Doordash orders. This requirement for flexibility has led many hospitality owners to change their business model entirely to meet the needs of customers amidst new challenges.

Restaurants are turning into grocery stores and running online cooking classes, as well as special ‘dine-in’ home delivery kits to supplement lost revenue.

Design changes to the dining experience

When it comes to indoor dining and socializing, design changes are afoot.

Cafe and restaurant businesses planning to reopen may encounter issues depending on their location, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability, people management, and implementation of new precautionary measures.

Business owners have the responsibility to plan ahead and manage health and safety risks as they resume business operations.

Outdoor space has become king. Cafes and restaurants have started to utilize all available outdoor space, and reduce contact within indoor locations.

Some social-distancing friendly design changes may include:

  • Spaced out tables with dividers to force physical distancing
  • Increased outdoor seating, as it is safer than contained spaces
  • Capping the number of customers who can dine for a period of time

Using iAuditor by SafetyCulture, cafes, and restaurants can take advantage. of easy-to-use digital checklists on a mobile app to streamline not only restaurant reopening inspections but the entire safety and quality initiative on re-opening operations.

New hygiene measures

Food-safety is essential to re-opening success. Incorporating hygienic packaging for utensils and food packaging, as well as removing self-serve buffet stations are just some of the ways businesses are responding to the challenge.

It’s also important to consider those who may carry potential risks, even without knowing it. As a high temperature is one of the COVID-19 symptoms, one McDonalds in Hong Kong has installed a thermal monitor that customers must stand in front of before ordering.

Is it going to be safe to eat at restaurants?

A leading public health researcher believes there are five different ways that businesses can keep the public safe when dining out:
the public safe when dining out:

  • Highly trafficked surfaces: Keeping surfaces sanitized involves cleaning every single touchpoint a user comes into contact with, including furniture, door handles, coat hooks, or tablecloths.
  • Shared condiments/utensils: Does your business need these any more? Consider removing anything that was previously ‘shared’, like ketchup bottles. It is also safer to invest in disposable instead of reusable cutlery.
  • Shared air supply: By increasing the amount of ventilation to your space, you reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
  • Increased sanitization: Increasing sanitization methods means that if possible, spaces need to be disinfected in between diners, although this may prove a challenge.
  • Interactions with staff: Since it is impossible to keep a two-meter/six feet distance when serving food, the risk to public health is highest when dining.

Digitization of the dining experience

Increased digitization of the dining experience is a key trend emerging from the pandemic.

The need for downloadable menus that customers can scroll on their personal devices, online booking systems, and easy-to-use dining apps are all becoming imperative.

It’s time for every hospitality business to move towards developing a culture of safety, and it doesn’t have to come at a huge commercial cost to your organization.

Establishments that have never had to take reservations will find themselves looking for ways to control guest flow and manage capacity limits. Tech will play a bigger and better role in hospitality, especially in restaurants. We were already seeing that shift happen but Covid-19 has definitely sped it up.

Andrea Johnston
CEO of Open Table

Back to work checklists for restaurant, bar and cafe owners and operators

Here are some helpful processes to help you get safely back to work in the form of handy digital checklists:

Download our free Hospitality Report for more hospitality trends and insights in the post-COVID-19 world. Use the free resources and tips inside as a playbook to get safely back to business.

Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.