How COVID-19 changed the future of restaurants

Longtime McDonald's owner Cheryl Taylor saw the coronavirus pandemic drastically changing her business.

"Our drive-thrus have been more busier than ever," she said.

With lobbies closed, customers have chosen the drive-thru, curbside pickup or delivery -- and most want the Big Mac served fast and contact free.

"We’re encouraging our customers to use the app so that they can have faster service," Taylor said.


Here is how Burger King envisions its future restaurants: plenty of pick up spots, but no indoor seating.

"There’s no shortage of companies that have announced this that we’re simply going to build restaurants that have multiple drive-thru lanes," said David Portalatin.

Portalatin, a food industry advisor, says overall restaurant business is down about 10 percent. However, drive-thru window traffic is up 22 percent and delivery jumped 137 percent, with that important growth powered by apps.

"The biggest accelerator of takeout business right now is the digital app. The ability to pick up your smart phone and place that restaurant order," Portalatin said.

Orders placed on a phone or computer increased 145 percent this past year, and expect that craze to continue as people gobble up more restaurant food at home.

"We’ve really just leapt ahead into the future," Portalatin said. "What COVID did is just accelerate that. It increased the capacity of the food service industry to do that off premise business."

For Chef Perry Hendrix, he was used to cooking for diners at Chicago’s famed Avec restaurant.

"I always tell people that it's like the dinner party you wish you could have," he said.

But then he had to figure how to box up their classic dishes and ship them across America for diners to eat at home.

"It's been an incredible opportunity really to sort of stretch our brains and figure out how to live outside of just these four walls of the restaurants," Chef Hendrix said.

Karen Browne is CEO of "One Off Hospitality" -- the company that runs Avec and several other Chicago restaurants.

"And our entire motivation was really around extending our beautiful food to our very, very loyal customer base," said Karen Browne.

When the pandemic hit and restaurants closed, they realized take out would not cut it. So they started delivering dinners first to the suburbs and then much, much farther.

"We somehow went from this very Chicago-based company and now we’re in all 48 states," Browne said.

In one of their restaurants that did not survive the pandemic, Blackbird, they prepare the food ready to go, then send it nationwide with Michigan, Florida and California being the top states ordering a taste of Chicago.

"It’s these people that are pretty far from us that want our food," Browne said.

Even with the return of indoor dining and increasing capacities, do not expect restaurants to return to their old way of doing business.

"Once we've opened this door, I really I don't see it, closing and hopeful that we can we can really continue and hopefully grow the business," Chef Hendrix said.

One off hospitality just opened a second Avec location in River North, which is a sign they believe many diners will regain their appetite for eating out, the old-fashioned way.