When Will Restaurants Return to Normal?

When I am asked when will restaurants return to normal, the short answer I give: they won’t. What I do see is a very different normal in the future. One that is full of possibilities if you are willing to open your eyes, your heart, your imagination, and embrace the changes we have recently had to make in our industry.



This video was filmed on September 1, 2020. I don’t know when you’re watching this video, but we are right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, we’re at the tail end of it. In New York and New Jersey, I just heard they will be starting to open restaurants next week. Texas restaurants are still open and California is still closed. In certain parts of the world it’s getting a little worse and some are getting a little better. Depending on when you’re watching this, just for reference, that’s where we’re at right now.

When will things return back to normal? 

I have no idea! I don’t have a crystal ball and that’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about is that there is no such thing as returning to normal. I don’t want to be the first to tell you this, I just want to be one of the many to tell you that things will never be normal again. That doesn’t mean that people won’t come into a restaurant again, won’t belly up to a bar and order some shots for them and their friends, or won’t have concerts, movies and indoor arenas again. But normal? I don’t think so. 

The normal restaurant of the 1920’s, 40’s and 50’s doesn’t exist anymore. Blockbuster used to be a very normal thing to do for video rentals; it doesn’t exist anymore. Taxis used to be very normal; they rarely exist anymore. Are you really going to go back to the good old days of fantasy football league where you had to get the Monday morning newspaper and go through every single person who scored a point and add it all up? I never did that but someone was telling me a story and that’s what they used to do. It took them hours on Monday to gather all the fantasy points! Now all you have to do is log onto a website and it’s all generated there for you instantly. Do you really want to go back to reading the newspaper? Do you like getting your news on TV, Twitter, Instagram or whatever it is on your phone? We don’t go backward, we only go forward. 

3rd Party Delivery is going to be even bigger

I don’t know what the new normal is going to look like but I know that if you’re waiting to return to normal – it’s not going to happen. I know for a fact that the new normal is going to include 3rd party delivery on a much grander scale – even more than it does today. Depending on when you’re watching this maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. But I do know that third party delivery is here to stay, it’s not just an add-on service anymore. It’s changing the entire restaurant industry so much that you may not ever need a dining room again. If you have a dining room right now, consider closing it. Maybe that’s right for you, maybe it’s not. 

Some of my clients purposely will not be re-opening their dining rooms. Not because the business isn’t there, it’s because they don’t want to have the diner anymore. They’d rather just do the delivery because it works better for them, their margins are better, their staff is smaller, and they’re making more money. But they’re adding 3 or 4 different restaurants, ghost, or virtual kitchens for their current menu. They’re using their dining room to expand their kitchen. So consider it. I’m going to give you a list of things to consider at the end of the video, too. 

Curbside pickup and online ordering is also here to stay. A lot of the things that we were fighting against, we began to embrace during this pandemic. And guess what…your guests have embraced them, too. They’re not going to go backwards. They’re not gonna go pick up their rotary phone with a 100 foot cord and walk around their house anymore to call in an order when they can just pick up the smartphone and place the order by themselves. They’re not going to get out of their car and go into your restaurant when you’re willing to walk out to them.

What I want you to do right now if you haven’t already is to stop wanting and waiting for normal to come back. What I want you to start doing right now is think about your new normal and what needs to be different for you

Here’s a couple of things that I would like for you to consider:

  • Make sure that you are absolutely embracing and taking advantage of online ordering, curbside pick up, third party delivery or doing delivery yourself.
  • Consider closing your dining and expanding your kitchen.
  • Consider adding different restaurants, ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens.
  • Consider specializing, more than you ever have before. 

With this type of technology, there’s no reason that someone who wants a great hamburger can’t just go to a place that only makes hamburgers. Why would they need to get their hamburger from a place that also does pizza, pasta, salads, wings and all that other stuff? Why not get a hamburger from a hamburger place or fried chicken from a fried chicken place. We saw the specialization of our industry starting in about 2008 with the food truck revolution. That was done out of necessity since it was harder to open up restaurants. There wasn’t money and there were challenges in the economy so the best chefs went to food trucks. But because their kitchens were so small they could only do 3 or 4 things really well, they became hyper focused or specialized. 

That has continued and if you’ve noticed over the last 10-12 years the most successful, hottest, trendiest restaurants have specialized more than ever before. I don’t believe that will change. I believe that if you have a menu with 300 items on it you should cut that down to 30. I know you think I’m crazy but this is just my opinion and I’m asking for you to consider it. 

Final thoughts

Again, the point of today’s video is not to rub a crystal ball and predict the future. This is just how I envision the future. What I don’t see is a return to normal the way that we think of normal. I see a very different normal in the future and I hope that you are considering the possibilities of what that very different normal in the future will look like for you. Remember systems create freedom. Freedom creates value. Value creates scale. I love every single one of you crazy restaurant people out there and I am looking forward to bringing you another video just like this next week but until then have an absolutely amazing day.


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