After seeing robotic waiters in China last fall, Shaosong Hu adopted the idea for his Dutch restaurant, the Royal Palace. Hu says that the robots will help ease service for both staff and customers at his pan-Asian restaurant locations throughout the Netherlands. The red and white robots will serve food and drinks and return used plates and glassware to the kitchen.
Dutch restaurants have been closed for more than two months and, as of Monday, reopened restaurants are limited to a maximum of 30 customers. As he reopens, Hu says the robots will help maintain new social distancing rules and help curb the spread of COVID-19. When asked about whether the robots were stealing human jobs, Hu responded that the robots are not replacing humans. On the contrary, the robots will help free the Royal Palace staff from mundane tasks, he explained, so that the staff is able to give customers even more personal attention.
The week ending April 12 marked the restaurant industry’s lowest point during the coronavirus lockdown with a year-over-year drop of 41% in overall sales. But six weeks later, the week ending May 24 saw only an 18% drop in sales, according to market research company NPD Group. About 320,000 U.S. restaurants are now permitted to resume on-premise dining, according to NPD, and sales have slowly begun to climb.
Drive-thru lanes, which usually account for about 70% of restaurant chain transactions, saw the earliest sales increases. Fast-food restaurants started seeing positive same-store sales growth around mid-May, according to Black Box Intelligence reports. Full-service restaurants, however, have taken longer to recover. The week ending April 12 saw a 79% decrease in full-service sales compared to last year, the lowest point during lockdown. As of the week ending May 24, transactions were down only 42%, a more gradual recovery. As states around the country continue to phase in dining-room service, analysts expect all restaurant sales to continue to rise.
Krispy Rice is just one of many new fine-dining restaurant concepts with no actual dining room. The bento box delivery service comes from SBE, the hospitality company behind California’s popular Katsuya sushi restaurants as well as Bazaar by José Andrés, Umami Burger, and others. Here’s how it works: when a customer places an order at Krispy Rice, the order is sent to the ghost kitchen nearest their location, then the meal is prepared and delivered. A series of ghost kitchens fulfilling Krispy Rice orders broadens the restaurant’s delivery area, reduces delivery times, and keeps the food fresher, helping to solve the problem of plated restaurant dishes not traveling well.
Beautiful and functional packaging is key, and the concept has been catching on. Consumers have come to rely on restaurant delivery, and many are willing to pay a premium for high-quality, expertly plated meals delivered to their homes. Even Uber founder Travis Kalanick is getting into the game. Since leaving Uber, Kalanick has been opening CloudKitchens in major metropolitan areas to serve as ghost kitchens for restaurant brands. SBE is also poised to rapidly grow its ghost kitchen footprint, as the company is nearly half-owned by Accor, the world’s biggest hotel chain. After successful trials in Los Angeles, SBE plans to expand into New York and other cities. “We’re looking at 34 to 35 locations by the end of the year and each of those locations brings five brands to the table,” says Martin Heierling, SBE’s chief culinary officer.
Last Sunday night during police brutality protests in Louisville, Kentucky, the fifty-three year old owner of YaYa’s BBQ, David McAtee, was shot and killed by local police. In a statement, Police Chief Steve Conrad said someone shot at officers, and officers “returned fire.” The identity of the suspect or anyone who returned fire has yet to be confirmed. While video evidence appears to show that McAtee discharged a weapon, it is unclear whether he shot at officers.
YaYa’s BBQ is located across the street from Dino’s Food Mart, where a large crowed had gathered on the evening of the shooting. McAtee had said he was planning to one day build a restaurant after buying the lot near Dino’s at 26th Street and Broadway. McAtee’s mother and nephew told reporters of the local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, that McAtee regularly fed police for free and donated food to organizations in the neighborhood. Louisville Metro Council President, David James, said McAtee was a personal friend, someone who knew what was going on in the neighborhood, and often gave free food to people in need. McAtee’s death has been troubling for a community still protesting the killing of Breonna Taylor, a young black emergency medical technician killed in her Louisville home by white police officers.
President Trump has signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, a boon for America’s struggling independent restaurants and small businesses. The Paycheck Protection Program was first signed into law in March, but the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief packaged had allowed businesses only eight weeks to spend federal loans. The new bill extends that time to 24 weeks, aiding independent restaurants, many of which have only just begun to resume limited dine-in service. Originally, PPP also required that businesses spend 75% of loans on payroll and 25% on non-payroll costs, but the new act change eases those numbers to 60% and 40%, respectively.
Both the National Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition have been lobbying for these changes for weeks. The travel industry will also benefit from the changes, says Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association. Travel businesses have continued to incur expenses with nearly no revenue due to lockdowns and social distancing requirements. Barnes even called for PPP to extend eligibility to non-profit and quasi-governmental entities.
Black Sheep Restaurants, a hospitality group operating 25 restaurants throughout Hong Kong, developed a “COVID-19 playbook” early on in the coronavirus crisis. The group had survived other viral epidemics, and the 17-page guide was intended to be shared internally only. But management later decided to make the playbook available online for the benefit of other restaurateurs. With guidance on everything from masks and temperature checks to dealing with unruly customers, the playbook has been embraced by restaurateurs around the world seeking to safely reopen their businesses. Restaurants consulting the Black Sheep playbook include Eleven Madison Park in New York City, TIRPSE in Tokyo, Room 4 Dessert in Bali, and Chefs Warehouse and Cookery School in Cape Town, Africa.