How Restaurant Dining Will Change After The Pandemic

China has seen our future, both in terms of economic collapse and how social relations change after what people are experiencing. Food delivery in the U.S. took a queue from China offering ‘leave food at the door’ as an option to ensure social distancing between driver and consumer.

Now that businesses in China are re-opening, we have a glimpse into how they’re protecting their employees, and how they’re changing the products that they offer to appeal to consumers. Eater highlights what’s going on in Beijing as restaurants and food vendors re-open.


Street food vendor in Beijing

Dining out involves placing an order with a server, sharing space with customers at nearby tables. Not only are a variety of hands touching your food before it reaches you but there’s not much possibility of social distancing, even if – as in early-crisis Northern Italy – restaurants were required to limit capacity so that tables were spread farther apart.

While the majority of retail establishments in China have re-opened, restaurants continue to struggle. Delivery business still outweighs dine-in.

  • Communal tables were more common in China than in the U.S. (Although one of my favorite local spots in Austin has them.) These have been limited. According to one restaurant owner, “There’s been talk of only one person per table, but it seems at the moment we are allowed to have three people…”

  • Some restaurants must take patrons temperatures as they enter.

  • Even delivery has to work to gain customer confidence, “delivery orders now often include cards listing the names and temperatures of all the staff involved in preparing your food.” Much of this is marketing – for instance a common delivery app has a delivery driver cartoon that tracks the progress of an order. The cartoon driver has been altered to now wear a mask.

  • For takeaway, instead of queuing customers order with their phones and get messages when it’s their turn to pick up food.

  • Mobile payments have further gained in popularity over cash and credit cards, since they avoid a high touch area of contact between server and guest.


Street food in Beijing

Things have been especially challenging for fine dining, because people don’t pay the high prices for delivery since they’re not using a restaurant’s dining room and receiving service. And since restaurants haven’t fully come back, it’s possible that there will be further shifts as well to try to attract customers. Or maybe the effect on restaurants will be longer-lasting.

One more thing that’s notable is that rules restaurants are under vary by local jurisdiction and that’s likely to be the case in the U.S. as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I want to see modernization of restaurants.

    1. Get rid of tipping.
    2. Take my card at the door and autocharge me when I leave. I hate touching sticky billfolds and having my credit card returned to me sticky because the server’s fingers were sticky.
    3. Eliminate tipping.
    4. Build service charges into the menu.
    5. Have I mentioned that gratuities are a terrible compensation model?

  2. Are you kidding me? I cannot even order Chinese food for delivery. How many other Americans feel the same?

    I have no interest nor intent to ever travel to Red China!

    What should be of greater concern is how our politicians turned their backs on allowing our national security of drug production to be outsourced. Of course, our politicians have financially benefited by outsourcing our production.

    As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

  3. I hope US restaurants continue with the Windex spray bottle and dirty bar rags to wipe tables. Very efficient and clean

  4. You’ve described the fast-casual ghost kitchen model which was already exploding in NYC before COVID-19. Most of the Manhattan Sweetgreen locations, for instance, are already exclusive to corporate locations, for preorder and pickup only, and the few storefronts are cashless only.

  5. (Not so) coincidentally, I created a DoorDash account today with my CSR. Had little regard for Chase’s gimmicky DoorDash/DashPass credit prior to this month, but now it seems quite useful all of a sudden. Should we add Chase to the coronavirus conspiracy theories? ;-j

  6. WTF people? What’s with all the animosity for the people of China? Pandemics sure bring out the worst in some 🙁

  7. I was able to order Peking duck for dinner while attending a medical conference in Peking, (Beijing) China. It was an excellent meal. When unrestricted global travel is restored, a trip to China might be a superb value when you use your American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

  8. @Mark, as @Gene said, we have met the enemy, and he is Donald Trump. No need for you to bash China.

  9. @Jason, I guess this is just a generational thing, but are you “totally good” autopaying with no chance to review or receipt?

  10. Hong Kong restaurants are open. Tables spaced further (farther?) apart. People in masks.

    I guess it’s the new normal until we get herd immunity.

    I can’t stop thinking that $30 -$50 billion spent to prepare with enough ventilators, ICU beds, and a draft imposed to get support people trained would have saved 1000’s of lives and
    trillions of dollars.
    This is the first time I’ve made a political comment here, but the President really screwed the pooch (1) on this. However, I understand there are no rewards given for disasters avoided.

    1-Term often used by pilots who screw up a landing approach

  11. I think the world needs to support food security to eliminate the sale and consumption of exotic animals.

    I’d rather see 1 billion dollars spent on food security vs. what is happening right now.

  12. @colleen – I would expect an itemized bill by email which I would check after returning home.

    Checking that payments post correctly is a hassle, sure, but we already have to do it to make sure our tip was posted accurately. I once found a restaurant added $30 to the tip I gave.

  13. @Jose, small typo. It should be:
    “Anyone that believes anything the comes out of [Trump] is a fool.”

  14. @Jose, small typo. It should be:
    “Anyone that believes anything the comes out of [Trump] is a fool.”

  15. Many ‘restaurants’ exist in name only; they have no eat-in dining area, often share a kitchen with other restaurants, exist only for delivery service.
    We don’t dine out in the manner we did 20 or 30 years ago. I could name 50 or more ‘fine dining’ restaurants in my home town that have vanished over the past 25 years.
    I like delivery; less keen on pick-up, unless it’s in very close proximity.

  16. HOW COULD THEY! Reopening restaurants in the middle of a pandemic they should all be ashamed in China. Don’t they know they are going to kill everyone, we need to continue to shelter in place until at least 2021 or everyone is going to die.
    Seriously, we will eventually have to get back to business or there won’t be many restaurants around. People like to complain about boring fast food places and you even talk about your favorite place in Austin to eat. Well, most of these individually owned restaurants will not be in business if we wait much longer to let them reopen. The restaurant business is a brutal, low-profit percentage business in the best of times and we are killing them with the economic impact of all the hype. Shutting them down with no end date is even worse than just being required to close. They cannot make enough from carryout and delivery alone to last very long.

    I’m sure people can continue to blame President Trump for Covid-19 as we all know it’s all his fault when he ate that bat at the seafood restaurant in Wuhan while on that government paid golf holiday with the Coronavirus test lab CEO and Putin in an effort to stop all testing worldwide. But we need to move on from this.

    We can’t cure Covid-19 and what you see in China is them attempting to get back to normal 8-12 weeks from this outbreak. China started to track cases on about January 22nd, the USA February 15th. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR2LAU1xHZTVB-TXmNOf9dUtW6Ohr-bf1lQIwg1CNbih3jTTksMHuRGkCJA

  17. Gary you should use pictures of Bat soup and Grilled Pangolin as examples of Chinese cuisine for accuracy.

  18. @DaninMCI, restaurants may go out of business but something will take their place. Economies recover; dead people don’t. Not just dead from COVID, but dead from any ailment that requires an ICU bed that will be occupied. Dead because of a drop in available medical staff to treat people. You don’t recover from dead.

  19. @ gene: why are you blaming donald trump for all of our societal ills when Nancy pelosi, chuck shumer, Diane Feinstein, chuck grassley, et al, (yes, I blame all politicians) have been running this country for 30+ years?

  20. Interesting to see how other countries are dealing with this crisis. Some of the “socialist” countries in Europe chose to put funding into businesses, in order to allow them to continue paying workers while closed/isolating.

    Averting job losses and keeping ppl employed keeps confidence in gov’t responsiveness high and depression/fear low while encouraging ppl to recognize the gravity of the situation. They know their gov’t has their backs. And citizens respond by doing their part.

    I also agree wiht earlier poster that eliminating the “wet markets” and encouraging food safety would make a huge difference in avoiding more of these cross-species killers. While our federal gov’t is still not using the American/ “Deep State” report on how to prepare for and deal with a pandemic, and early mistakes made this crisis far worse than it would be otherwise, we must all deal with what is here. Listen to the medical specialists, take precautions, and encourage your electeds to listen to the specialists, who know of what they speak.
    Excellent point made earlier:

    “I can’t stop thinking that $30 -$50 billion spent to prepare with enough ventilators, ICU beds, and a draft imposed to get support people trained would have saved 1000’s of lives and
    trillions of dollars.
    This is the first time I’ve made a political comment here, but the President really screwed the pooch (1) on this. However, I understand there are no rewards given for disasters avoided.
    1-Term often used by pilots who screw up a landing approach”

    This time around, there may be rewards for those who spoke in favor of early action, and who took appropriate actions early on. I certainly hope there will be both rewards and punishment for electeds who made decisions affecting millions of Americans’ lives and livelihoods.

  21. To be honest, I never knew that the word “restaurant” could trigger Trump Derangement Syndrome. Go figure.

  22. @Other Just Saying:

    Are you saying the word triggers the President’s derangement? At least now we have an explanation.

    Don’t worry, in June when SCOTUS mandates he produce his tax returns, I’m willing to bet you he gets charged by NYS for income tax evasion. I don’t really care what happens, it’s just my opinion of what is likely.

    I do give the President credit for one thing: Actually doing what he said he would when he was on the election trail.

    I’ll leave the orange hair clashing with the orange jumpsuit to others.

  23. Mark-I am retired Pharma engineer and your comment is based on your own opinion, not fact. I was on the middle of the war with SARS 1 (full PPE) H1N1( originated in the US) Ebola (Africa) MERS (Middle East) Nipha ( Malaysia)
    The pandemic in 1918 which killed millions originated in the US.
    We travel a great deal internationally -We were going to Africa/Egypt In Sept/Oct until this pandemic. And are neg. with Tour operators and airlines to move the trip to 2021.
    IK Science/Math is difficult for a lot of ppl, but the facts are irrefutable-the government (Trump) thought this was a joke and he should of taken this seriously two months ago when the Chinese first figured out the genome sequencing for COVID-19 and accepted tests from the WHO and ramped up w/the defense act. We would be much further along. Many ppl will get sick/die (very contagious in air/fomite surfaces.
    Oh, btw-for you world travelers who love HK, Laos, Thailand, Morocco, Egypt ,etc have “they all have “ wet markets” To some degree.
    Pls deal in facts
    Gary, love your site!

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