How will the coronavirus impact the restaurant industry?

As I sit here at the 25th anniversary of MURTEC in Las Vegas amid the threat of the coronavirus (covid-19), I ask myself, “how is this going to impact the restaurant and hospitality industry?” We have all seen the news of this outbreak / threat impacting the travel industry, especially cruise lines. When the US State Department goes to the extreme measure of calling out a business segment, such as the cruise industry, you know the impact will not only cut deep but will having long lasting consequences. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the government should not have done that as it was well warranted.


I have seen the impact here in Vegas as our Uber driver told us that the current hotel capacity was at 40% when it is normally at 90% this time of year. Personally, I saw the impact as I went to a Cirque de Soleil show when I got here. When I booked the tickets there was hardly a seat available. When I arrived, there were only about 200 people in the theater versus it’s 1500-2000 person capacity. Quite shocking and eye opening to be quite honest. I was sitting there wondering if I had made the right move attending this conference. After all, the prior week I had received countless emails from vendors and participants who were “grounded” by their companies due to the risk factor.

This brings me to the reason for writing this article. I am preparing for a presentation next week at the Southeast IT & Security Leaders Forum in Miami, if it is not cancelled of course. My topic is on a recent passion of mine and the session is entitled Drone Delivery Technology in Hospitality & Retail. Drone delivery? Yes, you heard that right and it is a real thing that we will be seeing soon. I won’t go into the details of this subject in this article but an news piece I read this morning inspired me to share my thought process on this. 

The article was entitled “Coronavirus: Delivery operators take action to safeguard consumers, drivers” and it talked about driver safety as well as “contactless delivery options” for the consumer. From the outset, my thoughts around how this virus would impact the restaurant industry immediately was around the spike in delivery sales as a result of people not wanting to go out into public places. If you think about this, it is really a false sense of security as there are still people touching your food and the delivery drivers are constantly encountering a variety of people. Further thoughts were provoked about how a delivery driver could hide their symptoms if they really needed a job and the money; now you have a scenario of a delivery driver being a carrier of a highly infectious disease. I say this not to invoke fear, I say it in the sense the we all need to put a little thought behind our actions. A good analogy of this is a tourist going to Mexico and avoiding the water as to not get some type of bug. At the same time, they are sucking down a margarita with ice in it that contains, you guessed it, water.

Drone Delivery

Drone delivery. Yes, I am finally back to that topic. While the FAA and several business verticals are actively testing this and creating a framework to make this a reality, we are 4-5 years away from seeing this in action to any type of scale. However, with our current state of threat, is this something that could be fast tracked into a reality? I think it could very well be. Think about it… you potentially can remove the delivery carrier from the picture and reduce the risk of exposure using this technology. Now that sounds a lot easier than it is and there are many variables that still do not lend itself to be a solution to all of our problems. Most solutions I have seen still involved a driver to do the “last mile” of the delivery process. Having said that, with mandatory or self-imposed quarantines happening around the country and around the world, this level of isolation will result in industries finding creative ways of getting their products in the hands of consumers. This is not only a solution for the restaurant industry but also logistics, medical… heck, almost any business that supplies items to a consumer could benefit from this.

I wanted to write this and provoke ideas for solutions we never knew we were going to need. Be inspired to think outside the box in ways you never dreamed of. While governments have planned for this for decades (we hope), consumers and the business community probably has not. We have seen these threats over the years but this one seems different. It seems to be here for the long haul and will have massive impacts across the globe from a consumer habit shift to the global economy. I am certainly not a “doomsday” kind of guy, but I am also a realist on how the average person reacts to the news that the read and see on the TV. Over politicized and distorted? Probably but we truly are guessing at that assumption as well. Better to be safe than sorry.

As I finalize my thoughts, I would be very curious to hear how you and your business are addressing the existing threat and any changes you are putting in place to protect your consumers and your employees. Heck, I even want to hear, from a personal level, about what you and your family are doing to prepare for this situation we find ourselves in. Do you feel the country/world is over-reacting? Or do you think this is much larger than what are being told. 

Let’s hope all of this will go away and we can continue our lives on a normal path; but don’t let your guard down. The world as we know it can be an unforgiving place, especially with the threat of a global pandemic. This is a great opportunity to create products, services and find solutions to problems we were never anticipating. There will be some big winners here, will you be one of them?

Skip Kimpel is a technology leader and industry disrupter with more than 20 years of strategic and hands-on experience delivering systems and programs that propel a company’s productivity and competitive advantage.

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