Here’s what restaurants of the future will look like: 

Dining room tables permanently spread 6 feet apart. Disposable paper menus instead of laminated ones. Curbside delivery is here to stay. Forget about salt and pepper shakers or napkin holders on tables. Want ketchup with those hash browns? Flag down your masked and gloved server.

Restaurant owners are unsure when the new coronavirus pandemic will end, but they are sure about one thing: When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, local eateries will never look the same.

Local hospitality experts interviewed this week by the South Florida Sun Sentinel say that when the protracted shutdown is over, surviving restaurants must adapt quickly to the post-pandemic world or go out of business. Because a COVID-19 vaccine remains at least a year away, when dining rooms do re-open, customers could be skittish in a confined restaurant space. Personal hygiene and sanitation will be more crucial than ever, and business models must evolve, they say.

Only the Creative Will Survive

“Only the creative will survive,” says Tom House, a 50-year restaurant veteran who consults local eateries about staff training and food safety through his Fort Lauderdale company, A Better House.

“Restaurants must get ahead of the curve now and be proactive,” House says. “Maybe they’re doing touch less point-of-sale systems. Maybe they’re offering single-use ketchup packets instead of glass ketchup bottles on the table. People are going to be extra paranoid, so you have to give them options.”

Local restaurants are also paying attention to how China, which re-opened its economy last week, can rebound from the crisis. So far, Chinese consumers, still afraid of catching coronavirus, are holding onto their money instead of spending it in shopping malls and other retail spaces.

How Restaurants Will Evolve

Restaurants are already helping offset sluggish takeout sales by selling meal kits and groceries to go during the pandemic, and these services will likely continue permanently.

Eateries that once relied on food-delivery apps like UberEats for delivery will hire drivers to avoid the 30% commission fee. Restaurants will use better takeout packaging so fresh meals stay hot during delivery.

But there will be drawbacks. Old conveniences like table side condiment bottles will be by-request only. The days of tables packed into restaurants like sardines are over. Body temperature checks at the front door could become commonplace.

And mobile payment systems will gain popularity. More eateries may adopt apps like Venmo, Zelle and Apple Pay to minimize interactions with staff at pickup.

Special thanks to the Sun Sentinel