Six COVID-induced changes that will stick

Ehud Malka of the Left Handed Chef. Photo by Dean Schmideg-DS Images.

While the pandemic made businesses pivot, re-invent and find new revenue streams, many of the changes may be worth keeping in a post-COVID world. By Frank Leggett

Early 2020 saw businesses and individuals desperately navigating the brave new world of lockdowns and a seemingly unstoppable pandemic. The hospitality industry was hit particularly hard but displayed its resilience by finding multiple ways to rise to the various challenges.

1. Contactless payment

With customers aware that touching cash or keypads can be a source of infection, contactless payment has become the preferred option for businesses and consumers.

Pitchfork Restaurant on Peregian Beach in Queensland offers modern Australian cuisine with a seasonally changed menu. When they were able to open after the lockdown, they rigorously followed all COVIDSafe procedures.

“We accept payment over the phone and customers can pick up their meals,” says Kim Galea, chef and co-owner of Pitchfork with her husband, Craig. “We even carry the order to their car and place it in their boot so there is no contact at all.”

A majority of their customers happily use contactless payment. “We didn’t want to stop a cash payment option completely as there’s a small number of people who only use cash,” says Galea. “All the cash we receive is fully sanitised.”

The biggest advantage of contactless payment is the simplicity and convenience of the procedure. It doesn’t suit all patrons—particularly the older generation—so Pitchfork and many other restaurants will continue to offer both options.

Pitchfork Restaurant. Photography: supplied.

2. Simpler waste-free menus

Reducing food waste is a priority for all restaurants and cafes—not only does it improve the bottom line, there are multiple environmental benefits. During the pandemic, when money is tight and every plate of food counts, it makes sense to change to a limited menu of popular meals that have minimal or no waste. Customers pre-ordering food makes it much more predictable when ordering supplies. By simplifying your menu and minimising waste, you’re not throwing good food—and money—in the bin.

3. Dine-in ordering

Havana Beach is located on the beachfront in Sydney’s suburb of Manly and lives by its motto: #havanagoodtime. Loyal locals and visitors enjoy their delicious cocktails, fun Cuban-inspired food and sweeping views.

“When every other business went into lockdown, we extended our hours and offered takeaway, mainly via our website,” says Matt Soltau, co-owner of Havana Beach. “As soon as we were allowed to seat 10 guests, we re-opened our doors. Meanwhile we used the idle time to renovate our bar.”

As part of their response to the pandemic, management installed dine-in ordering. The customers sit at a table, scan a QR code and the menu appears on their phone. They order and pay, and meals and drinks are delivered to their table. There’s absolutely no physical contact between customers and staff.

“It’s intuitive and very easy to use,” said Soltau. “It’s important to keep your menu up to date and ensure everything is in stock.”

Customers of Havana Beach are primarily in the 25 to 35 age range and they have embraced the system. Paying as you order also eliminates the need to split bills at the end of the night.

Ocean views from inside Havana Beach. Photography: supplied.

4. Healthier menus

At the start of the lockdown, people were cocooning at home and turning to comfort food. With ongoing restrictions still in place people are now clamouring to get back to the gym and are choosing the healthier options when they dine. The popularity of plant-based meals is on the rise and the growth of healthy meal-kits has set the tone for a new style of eating. Restaurants have responded by increasing the healthy offerings on their menus—not just for adults but on the kids menu too.

“We didn’t want to stop a cash payment option completely as there’s a small number of people who only use cash. All the cash we receive is fully sanitised.”

Kim Galea, chef and co-owner, Pitchfork Restaurant

5. Meal kits

Ehud Malka and his wife Holly have owned and run the Left-Handed Chef in South Melbourne for the past eight years. Their menu is a celebration of Israeli food and everything is made fresh on the premises. During the lockdown they put a variety of meal boxes together and delivered them all over the city.

“Everything in our meal kits is cooked and ready to eat,” says Malka. “Our picnic box was very popular and so was our Shabbat dinner box, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. During the pandemic, the meal kits kept us ticking over and helped save our business.”

At present, The Left-Handed Chef can only seat 10 people inside but they have an outside area that can seat 50 people. They’ve been fully booked since opening.

“The meal kits saved us but I intend to phase most of them out except for a couple of the most popular selections,” says Malka. “It sometimes took 40 minutes to deliver the meal boxes and that’s not right. I prefer my food to be enjoyed in the restaurant, served hot and fresh.”

6. Less shared plates

The COVID-19 pandemic pretty much ended shared plates in restaurants. The virus can survive on tongs, spoons and surfaces, making shared plates an ideal way to spread the pathogen. For now, meals need to be kept separate with each person eating from their own plate. It’s almost a certainty that post-COVID, shared plates will make a mighty return. So many types of cuisine—Spanish, Lebanese, Greek, Chinese—engage diners with shared plates in the spirit of bonhomie, that their demise is unthinkable.