Pubs and Restaurants in the Social Distancing Era: Key Changes and Opportunities

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

As we all navigate our way through the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the new reality of social distancing in pubs and restaurants as businesses start to reopen, at Nestlé Professional we’re always open for you; here every step of the way to support the industry.

Understanding how to limit contact and adhere to social distancing guidelines will be essential in the new world, which is why our third and final article looks at how delivery, payment options and technological advancements will bring about both restaurant changes and opportunities, now and in the future.


How is social distancing changing pubs and restaurants?

Cashless is key

With a new reluctance to handle cash, contactless tech sets to take on extra meaning beyond convenience as consumers look to limit physical contact. Smartphone controls have become even greater with Bluetooth tech now allowing contactless payments of up to £45 via mobile phones (more for many Apple phones) and contactless payment seeing a huge increase.

  • A recent study by Mastercard covering 19 countries found more than three quarters of people are now using contactless payments.2
  • 82% of those questioned claimed for them contactless was the ‘cleaner way to pay’ and three quarters claimed they’ll continue to use the option once the pandemic is over.2

Contactless payment has offered benefits for some time now, but the recent pandemic has seen this surge even further due to both hygiene and efficiency. Here is how the cashless trend has made venues change:

  • Hygiene – Businesses have had to adapt in countless ways to prepare for reopening, from staff masks and installing screens to increased hygiene and cleaning measures. Even before the pandemic, many consumers opted for contactless payment but currently many businesses won’t accept cash. With contactless now deemed ‘the cleaner way to pay,’ it’s even more desirable for food outlets to offer this payment method and is one of the ways to show your business is putting the safety and hygiene of consumers first.
  • Efficiency - The limit for contactless payments recently increased to £45 which makes it an even more convenient payment method for consumers.  With a desire to now reduce queueing times and unnecessary human contact, speed is seen as an additional benefit, enabling customers to get in and out of stores faster and limit interaction.

Delivery drives the future

Many venues offered takeaway and delivery during lockdown and it’s remained as an ideal way to future-proof hospitality businesses. Delivery menus require planning to ensure the dishes arrive at the optimum quality, but are a great way to ensure food can be delivered to those not willing to travel quite yet, as well as during quieter traditional dayparts.


Social distancing: top tips and opportunities

With 43% of consumers expecting to increase their frequency of delivery1 it’s clear there won’t be a decrease in demand for takeaway, so these tips can be used to maximise this continuing trend:

Increase your reach through deliver partners

Increase your range and customer base by registering with a major delivery partner such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats or Just Eat. Many have been offering deals due to the pandemic and provide a list of their benefits on the website so you can choose the best provider for your business needs.

Embrace the local community

Raise your profile within your local community as 52% of consumers claim they intend to support local businesses1 moving forward. Advertising your services within your local area and on social media means your regulars are aware of your offer and new customers can also be reached.

Master your menu

Social distancing offers pubs and restaurants an opportunity to completely re-design their menus. Take time to select the menu items which will travel well. It may be necessary to limit some of your menu items, however few items done well is better than many done poorly. Also consider the packaging – not only will this protect the dishes until they reach the customer, but they’ll also communicate key business messages like the importance of sustainability.

Think outside the box

Widen your offering by considering meal deals and bundle offers. Solutions such as ‘big night in’ or ‘date night’ can help your customers create exciting occasions at home as well as driving spend per head.

If delivery isn’t possible, click (or call) and collect could be a simple solution. Give your customers the option to collect their orders and communicate how you have implemented ‘contactless collection’ to inspire confidence that they can collect from your venue safely.

Tech: the new restaurant industry opportunity

As we navigate the future, it will be essential to find new ways to help people abide by social distancing guidelines and limit hand-to-hand contact.  From hands-free door handles and keyring tools designed to press lift buttons, to virtual check ins, voice-controlled ordering technology and motion-sensor touch screens, design innovations are growing and are set to rise even further. Here are the top three opportunities that tech has in store for pubs and restaurants in the social distancing era:


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of venues provided apps within which customers could order table service from their phones. These remove the need for consumers to stand at the bar or have face to face contact with staff to place an order. Wetherspoons saw success with this prior to lockdown and have stated they’ll be encouraging consumers to use the app to order food and drink once venues are reopen. Apps such as these are a great opportunity for the hospitality industry as they can also be used to pre-book tables and manage capacity which is vital when restricting the number of customers allowed in the venue at any one time.

Smart menu-boards and online ordering

These list the options consumers most frequently select while introducing new menu items they may enjoy based on the preferences of those with similar tastes. Although an ambitious option for some businesses, the pandemic and the business challenges it brought about may have accelerated this kind of technology and could be accessible sooner rather than later. These are a great way to encourage customers to try new dishes, spend more per visit and have a more personalised experience.

Customer service

Whilst technology may overtake how we place our orders in the future, customer service will still play an essential role in the eating out experience. Attendant-less ordering provides team members more time to create an overall experience within the venue. This could be ensuring social distancing guidelines in pubs and restaurants are adhered to, spending additional time visibly cleaning and sanitising for reassurance, or dedicating more time to food quality and venue atmosphere.


Next, find out How to Meet Customer Expectations Post Covid-19 by focusing on what customers want.


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  1. CGA Business Confidence Q2 2020
  2. Covid-19 spurs contactless payments takeup - Mastercard