COVID changed business in CT. Which pandemic changes are likely to remain?

When restaurants reopened last May, many began using QR codes instead of physical menus. Customers used their phones to scan the code and open a web page to display the menu.

It was new then, but Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said it was no longer new.

“Now your grandmother knows how to scan a QR code,” he said.

QR code menus belong to many layers large and small that could remain part of life as the pandemic subsides.

For restaurants, there are many pandemic-era changes that could persist.

Dolch said the to-go order was irrevocably changed.

Before the pandemic, to-go orders made up an average of around 8 to 10 percent of sales nationwide. At the height of the pandemic, it was closer to 50 percent. It’s “stabilized,” he said, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent.

Outdoor dining is probably here to stay as well. Dolch called it the “silver lining” of the pandemic for the catering trade.

“I think the al fresco dining created more seating and dispersed people,” he said.

Adam Zakka, co-owner of Z Hospitality Group, which operates six restaurants in the area, five in Fairfield County and one in Westchester County, said the pandemic is the catalyst for significant technological upgrades. It was, he said, “the impetus to change all of our point-of-sales systems”.

His systems are all talking to each other now. The operator now takes your credit card right at the table, and the system that manages this functionality connects to online ordering, reservations, accounting and marketing.

“We had a lot of catching up to do with this stuff,” he said. “Much of the technology has been accelerated.”

Zakka also said he hoped the pandemic would result in higher wages and better benefits for restaurant workers.

“When you hire new people, you have to raise wages to attract talent,” he said, resulting in “a faster shift to higher wages, more bona fide and comprehensive compensation plans.”

The future of therapy

Telemedicine is another aspect of life that the coronavirus pandemic may have changed inexorably. Some patients never met their therapist.

“Of course you got to know your therapist, just not personally,” says Rona Wall, who has been practicing psychotherapy for 37 years. “But you mean you weren’t in the same physical space. But don’t you feel you know each other? My ultimate message is that I really don’t think we lost anything to teletherapy. “

She had never conducted a remote therapy session before the pandemic.

“I’ve had a few phone sessions, phone sessions when someone is sick and can’t come, or something like that,” she said.

But when the pandemic struck, she switched her entire practice to remote. It was such a complete shift that she decided to do without a physical office at least for the time being.

“I said to my landlord, ‘I’m very sorry, but I just can’t throw away money on an office I don’t use,” she said. “Although I could theoretically go back now and some people would come and ask some, the majority of my customers overall enjoy the Zoom.”

Wall, who practices and lives in Westport, said she had concerns about switching to remote therapy.

“I’m not a computer person, I’m a human person, so I started out as a social worker and therapist,” she said.

“When we had to switch off and go online, I was pretty pissed off. But the transition was pretty smooth, ”she said. “My customers were very happy that they could continue.”

Since then, since the beginning of the pandemic, she has welcomed new clients – patients she has never met in person.

“It feels like we’ve definitely met and are working together absolutely effectively,” she said.

And since the pandemic weakened, Wall said she has seen opportunities for remote training, suggesting teletherapy will stay here even after some of her colleagues have returned to physical offices.

“It seems that people are pushing their training and aligning it with telemedicine,” she said. “While some people are definitely going back to their offices, and I’ve heard some do, but I know many who aren’t.”

The future of grocery shopping

The hot buffet was a victim of the pandemic, according to Brad Knab. But now that the pandemic seems to be subsiding, grocery stores are making a return to ready-made meals.

However, it depends on the branch and the area.

“In one store, hot bars are open, but you go across town and their salad bar and the hot bars are closed and the salad bars only have pre-packaged deli salads,” Knab said. “Or the salad section of the bar is not open, like leafy vegetables and do-it-yourself salad, but there are pasta salads or salsa for self-service.”

Knab is a co-owner of Storemasters, a midwestern supermarket design company with customers across the country, including Connecticut.

He said there are some aspects of the grocery store experience adopted during the pandemic that will go away as people feel more comfortable.

Others will be around for the foreseeable future. It depends to a large extent on what is good from a business point of view. Look for more hassle with grocery deliveries and the advent of refrigerators with your grocery bags waiting for you.

“This whole online ordering of groceries and fulfilling orders is really starting to take off,” said Knab.

Then there are the little things. Many stores started pre-cutting meat and cheese during the pandemic. It is a possibility, said Knab, to give customers a feeling of security. They didn’t have to watch a stranger treat their Bologna or Swiss cheese.

But it is also true that “pre-cut products are flying off the shelf,” he said.

“There are a lot of people who go to a busy deli and just say, ‘I’m not going to buy a deli today because I’m not waiting for a pound of turkey and half a pound of minster. I’m out, ‘”he said. “I think retailers are seeing positive increases in their P and L in delis. Their distribution in delis could go up a tad. And they said, ‘Hey, what’s going on here? During COVID, more and more people are buying delis, what’s going on? ‘”

Before the pandemic, the top deli brands – Dietz & Watson or Boar’s Head – didn’t allow stores to pre-cut their products.

“So what is sitting there? The higher quality cold cuts are not cut, ”said Knab. But that’s changing. “Because of COVID, some of these manufacturers are finding that their wholesale sales are falling because retailers pre-cut their own brands and people just buy them straight out of the box.”

Masks are unlikely to go away either, at least for employees.

“I think you will see this go on because it gives the public a sense of security when they walk into a retailer’s store,” he said. “And then the other thing is the amount of awareness. Social distancing stickers or signs will remain in stores. And I also think that hand disinfection stations will still be widely used in all stores. “

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