By Dale J. Venturini, President & CEO, Rhode Island Hospitality Association
The restrictions placed on the hospitality industry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have taken an enormous economic toll on restaurant operators, hoteliers and the tens of thousands of industry workers across the country in 2020. However, through adversity, we did see a great deal of innovation, forward-thinking and a commendable willingness to adapt and improvise in order to keep our businesses viable until things slowly return to some sense of normality.
From offering curbside pickup and delivery, to developing drive-thru lanes and increasing outdoor dining space with tents, igloos and more, restaurants in America have adapted a litany of new options to remain operational within the restrictions and public health and safety guidelines placed upon them.
While operations in traditional restaurant settings have been significantly impacted, ghost kitchens and professional food preparation and cooking facilities that deliver restaurant-quality meals have seen their growth accelerate in 2020. Likewise, virtual brands, inventive individualized concepts based out of existing kitchens, have similarly become more popular in the past year and allow restaurateurs to offer different types of dishes they normally don’t offer while making use of the ingredients they already have in their pantries.
While these measures are simply short-term Band-Aids that slow the bleeding of our restaurants – as well as the interconnected ecosystem of businesses from breweries to bakeries, wholesalers, linen companies and more – we’re likely to see many of these trends carry over into 2021 as case numbers decrease and our industry hopefully regains its footing.
As travel continues to be stymied by spiking COVID-19 cases, hotels are among the businesses bearing the brunt of the economic free fall with business travel nearly nonexistent; conventions, weddings and other large-scale gatherings on hold for the foreseeable future; and people spending less in general. Also part of the hospitality ecosystem, hotels are repurposing their spaces, offering touchless-technology and contactless services like mobile check-in and expanded room service while stepping up their cleanliness and sanitization standards.
From promoting “staycations” to locals and renting out rooms and suites as month-to-month apartment-like units, to expanding outdoor footprints and offering socially distanced co-working spaces and meeting rooms, hotel operators are utilizing creativity to rethink the traditional methods of running a lodging operation. To keep hotels open, operators are targeting new types of guests: those working virtually who enjoy the convenience and cleanliness that lodging facilities offer, as well as those looking for extended-stay options.
When it comes to restaurants and hotels, the previously mentioned trends are likely here to stay for at least the next year or so, and in many cases might prove to be the industry’s lifeline. Unfortunately, innovation doesn’t always equal profitability, and when it comes to restaurants, there is no replacement for a steady turnover of tables, and for hotels, nothing beats a consistently high occupancy rate.
When we hear that 100,000-plus restaurants across the country have closed since the start of the pandemic, we also have to think of the thousands of employees who relied on those establishments to provide for themselves and for their families.
As I discussed earlier, restaurants and hotels are part of a larger hospitality ecosystem, and when one closes, there is a domino effect that causes a number of businesses to suffer and potentially close themselves. Although additional federal relief has been approved, more will be needed to ensure that these businesses are able to survive what has arguably been the most difficult economic hardship our industry has faced in modern history.
For now, our industry will do what it does best: adapt and cater to the needs of the people. I humbly ask you to consider catering to theirs too.
A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.