It’s easy for restaurant owners to become discouraged right now, but this has never been an industry for the faint of heart. The restaurant industry often has endured tough times, and from my perspective, the pandemic has changed our way of doing business. The coronavirus has forced business owners to innovate on the fly, and one of the best developments to come out of this has been curbside pickup.
Now, let me qualify all of this by emphatically saying that I’m not suggesting the pandemic has been good. Lives and livelihoods have been lost. Many businesses, particularly restaurants, have shut down and won’t be reopening. But as you try to find a new way forward, it may help to take a few steps back.
That’s what Wayback Burgers, and many restaurant brands, have been doing with curbside pickup.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
If you are of a certain age or are familiar with your restaurant history, you know that eating in your car at a restaurant was a big thing in certain parts of the country during the 1950s and 1960s.
The first drive-in restaurant, Kirby’s Pig Stand, opened in Dallas, Texas, back in 1921. It was a roadside barbecue restaurant and was a thriving franchise in several states for years — it only closing its doors in 2006.
The iconic imagery of servers on roller skates, bringing out food to cars — that all started with Kirby’s. Before long, other restaurants were copying the model, and in the 1950s, as the suburbs exploded, drive-in restaurants really became a thing.
We lost that as a country in the last 40 or 50 years, with drive-thrus mostly replacing drive-in experiences. If drive-ins start to make a comeback, it may mean a rise in numbers for many restaurants. Understandably, the drive-in model can’t work for every establishment. Many don’t offer food that allows for easy eating in your car — and not everyone has the parking space for people to turn their automobiles into a dining car. For some restaurants, however, it can be a plus. Admittedly, it has been for our company.
SOME THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE
If you want to remain in business, you have to give people what they want rather than what you wish they wanted. Throughout restaurant history, owners have always tried to meet their guests where they are. The reason drive-in restaurants did so well was because they matched the moment. They served up what their guests were hungering for. In the early days of the automobile, people were so excited to be driving that they didn’t want to leave their cars.
Then society found itself in a big rush during the 1970s and just wanted to grab food on the go.
Fast-casual arguably became a big thing in the last couple of decades because society decided that maybe they were in too much of a hurry. People started worrying that all of this eating hastily prepared food, warming under a heat lamp, might not be the best thing for them. Restaurants listened. (Well, many of them did.)
NOT ALL OLD IDEAS ENDED BECAUSE THEY WERE BAD
Society is changing, and once again, restaurant owners need to listen. Sometimes new things are considerably better than the replacement, but I think the pandemic should remind us all that this is not always the case.
Obviously, nobody wants to go back exactly to the way life was in 1953. But I think today’s generations yearn for the attention to detail society seemed to have years ago.
Bringing back curbside service was one of the first things our company did, and while it’s a tradition that worked out well yesterday and today, it would be easy to imagine other old-fashioned ideas taking root.
Think of how supermarket curbside pickup has become fashionable? Before Piggly Wiggly came around in 1916, you’d go to the grocery store, and you’d hand your shopping list to an attendant. Then they would gather everything up. Sounds a lot like what people do now, with personal shoppers pulling together grocery orders and workers bringing your food out to the car.
While everyone will be thrilled to stop wearing masks, hug family and friends and get together in crowded restaurants, once Covid-19 subsides — I’m not sure all of these recent borrowings from our grandparents’ generation are going to go away. Pandemic or not, I think plenty of people are enjoying curbside food pickup. If you’re an anxious restaurant owner wondering what the future looks like, look to the past with a twist of today’s technology.
Learn more about how Wayback Burgers handled the Covid-19 pandemic and if there are franchise opportunities in your area.