Seafood restaurants innovate as US foodservice woes continue

Published on
August 24, 2020

The losses for U.S restaurant and foodservice industry continue to mount as COVID-19-mandated closures persist and the travel market remains depressed.

Airport foodservice operator HMSHost is laying off at least 3,000 employees by mid-October in response to its coronavirus-related struggles, Restaurant Business reported.

“Due too the slow recovery and challenging business climate, HMS Host has made the decision to lay off a significant portion of our associates,” the company said in an email to the magazine.

In April, U.S. air travel plunged 95 percent, according to Transportation Security Administration data, while in August, travel declined 71 percent when compared to August 2019.

The U.S. restaurant industry is expected to lose between USD 250 billion (EUR 211 billion) and USD 300 billion (EUR 254 billion) in sales in 2020, according to a revised forecast from consulting firm Technomic.

“Few industries have felt the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic quite like foodservice. Restrictions are wreaking havoc, especially on the segments that depend upon on-premise consumption,” Technomic Managing Principal Joe Pawlak said in a press release.

In New York City, where only outdoor dining is currently allowed, 88 percent of restaurant and bar owners said they could not pay their full rent in July, the NYC Hospitality Alliance said in a press release.

In addition, the city’s restaurants and bars employ 200,000 fewer people than they did in March, and nearly 60 percent of hospitality industry workers are without jobs, the alliance said.

The alliance is urging New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to implement an immediate plan to return to indoor dining in the city.

“Despite the fact that the city exceeds and sustains the metrics that have allowed restaurants throughout the rest of the state to reopen, government leaders have still yet to provide any guidance on when small-business owners, workers, and customers can expect indoor dining to return,” NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said in a press release. “Our industry’s survival over the next several months depends on government immediately developing and implementing a plan that allows restaurants in New York City to safely reopen indoors like our counterparts everywhere else in the state."

With the upcoming cold winter season, “insiders are predicting a death knell for the industry if indoor dining does not resume by mid-September,” the alliance said.

Despite hardships, restaurant chains are doing their best to adapt to the new environment through innovation on menuing options and delivery services.

For example, Houston, Texas-based Landry’s, which operates The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Morton’s The Steakhouse, and other upscale eateries, recently debuted a steak and seafood meal delivery service.

The “Landry's Kitchen” service allows customers to order packages of raw steak and seafood, sourced from the restaurant giant’s regular suppliers, the Houston Business Journal reported. The offerings change seasonally, and the minimum per order is USD 75 (EUR 63). Landry’s is offering corresponding steak and seafood recipes on its Landry's Kitchen website.

Tampa, Florida-based Bonefish Grill recently unveiled an expanded menu with new seafood and surf and turf combinations and reintroduced favorite dishes that guests have been asking for. Bonefish Grill’s new “Perfect Pairings” menu a curated collection of seafood and surf and turf combinations, including Mahi-Mahi & Shrimp, Georges Bank Scallops & Shrimp, Steak & Crab Cake, Steak & Lobster Tail, and Lobster Tail & Crab Cake, the chain said in a press release. It is also bringing back “legacy” menu items, including Saucy Shrimp and Blackened Salmon Pasta. 

Another effort that may help restaurants is US Foods' launch of US Foods Ghost Kitchens, a program designed to guide restaurant operators every step of the way when opening their own operation, helping them easily add a new revenue stream. 

“The Ghost Kitchens program was developed in response to growing interest among our customers, but we’ve also been tracking the trend, and ghost kitchens are projected to reach a USD 1 trillion [EUR 845 billion] global market by 2030, making them an attractive concept for operators even after dine-in restrictions are lifted,” US Foods Senior Vice President of Customer Strategy and Innovation Jim Osborne said in a press release.

Meanwhile, after a “dramatic” drop in sales in 2020, Technomic expects industry sales to grow by 21 percent in 2021, according to its “Middle Case” scenario. The firm also provided projections for “Best Case” and “Worst Case” scenarios.

“What we are seeing is continued decline for the remainder of the year but aggressive growth in 2021,” Pawlak said. “However, it will still take longer to fully bounce back, and we’ll be updating our forecasts as circumstances continue to shift and evolve.”

Photo courtesy of the Bonefish Grill

Contributing Editor

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