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The Evolution of Dining: Limited Capacity, Increased Challenges

In the spring of 2021, many restaurants were opening back up, starting with 25-percent capacity.

“Here in British Columbia, dining rooms have been open since May of 2020 with 50 percent capacity, then closed again for three weeks starting in late March of 2021,” says Joe Lavoie, general manager of Richmond, BC-based Neptune Fresh Produce Inc. BB #:334248.

“Operators expanded onto patios, streets, and parking lots.”

Later in the year, as spring turned to summer, Lavoie says there wasn’t a strict capacity rule, but restaurants were required to facilitate social distancing, which included barriers between seats.

“Increasing capacity requires investment,” he says.

Eateries with little or no outdoor dining space continued to struggle in some areas, forced to seek alternatives to serve customers.

“Restaurants have gotten highly creative when it comes to limited-capacity dining,” says Natalie Shmulik, CEO of The Hatchery, a food business incubator and service provider in Chicago.

“Most have launched multiuse spaces, some have split their space to allow for part on-premises dining and part micro-market, where ingredients, specialty items, and to-go meals can be purchased.

“Others have launched pop-ups and ghost kitchen concepts to make the most use of the space,” Shmulik adds. “Restaurants are also adjusting their traditional dining hours as work-from-home continues. Lunch hours expanded from 11 am through 2 pm to 10 am through 3 pm, which allows for more flexibility.”

“Limited capacity has particularly affected fine dining restaurants that weren’t able to transition into takeout as easily,” Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing for wholesaler John Vena, Inc. BB #:104221 in Philadelphia.

“Many have shuttered or switched to a ghost kitchen model for that reason.”

This is an excerpt from the cover story of the July/August 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.