( File photo )

Suddenly, bars, casual eateries, and fine-dining restaurants have nearly vanished.

Take-out and drive-through business is the total focus for U.S. foodservice operations stung by mid-March coronavirus-related restrictions.

A new study by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) looks at the top concerns and implications for the foodservice trade in the wake of unprecedented public alarm over the fast-spreading and dangerous virus.

Called “Coronavirus impact on the foodservice industry,” the survey talked to operators, manufacturers, and consumers from March 9-13. The report was published in conjunction with Kinetic12 Consulting and was finished before a wave of new restrictions on restaurant operations were put in place in mid-March.

“Given the recent city and state announcements of restaurant and bar closures, it is clear the impact of COVID-19 on the industry ecosystem is significant,” the survey summary said March 17. “For independent restaurant owners, the concern about cash-flow, business survival and the impact on their employees is likely higher on their priority lists than restaurant sanitization procedures.”

For chain restaurants, the survey said that maximizing take-out/delivery and drive-through will be a top priority.

In addition, restaurant operators are concerned about having staff available when they are allowed to reopen for business, and whether there will be government reimbursements to cover their losses,” the survey said.

The study found varying degrees of consumer concern about contracting coronavirus from food establishments. Asked to rate their concern about foodservice outlets, consumers rated biggest worries for cruise ships (71%), followed by arenas (59%), movie theaters (50%), buffet restaurants (49%), bars(48%), cafeterias (46%) food courts (45%) limited-service restaurants (34%), c-stores (32%), grocery (29%), grocery deli (21%), fine-dining (12%).

“However, given recent closures around the country, many consumers no longer have a choice and will likely be utilizing third-party delivery apps such as UberEats, Grubhub and Doordash,” the survey said. “In contrast, many healthcare operators are expecting a surge in demand but will need to take extra precautions to keep staff and visitors safe.”

The study looked at foodservice operations in four “buckets” and predicted:

  • Quick-service operations will maximize “non-social” transactions;
  • Family casual operations suffer a greater negative impact on sales but will try to maximize their take-out/curbside and delivery business and run operations with reduced staff;
  • Fine-dining operators with little to no take-out and delivery will be hardest hit, with many locations likely closed entirely during the restriction period; and
  • Closure of schools will shut down the associated foodservice operations; healthcare foodservice will experience a "unique set of issues" as staff and visitors make their own assessments on where it is safe to eat.

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