Wondering why your favorite restaurant hasn’t felt the same? Here are some reasons

Photo illustration by Michelle Budge
Photo illustration by Michelle Budge

It’s been four years since the pandemic started, and many consumers have noticed a decline in quality of some of their favorite restaurants. Product and service decline isn’t unheard of in some restaurants, but it seems to have become worse since 2020.

Here are some reasons why your favorite restaurant hasn’t felt the same since pre-pandemic.

1. Lack of employment quality

One of the biggest challenges that comes with operating a restaurant is, of course, having employees to operate it. The problem is, recent trends have made this necessary part difficult to manage.

The National Restaurant Association shared data from early 2023, finding that there were 400,000 fewer people working in overall hospitality industries than in 2020.

It was significant enough that approximately “87% of restaurants were operating with insufficient staff,” per Business Insider.

Additionally, Toast — a restaurant-based software company — said that eateries hold a yearly turnover rate of 74%, which, according to Business Insider, is the highest of all industries in the U.S.

The lack of employees makes a large influence on a restaurant’s operation, but the work culture plays a significant role too.

A 2023 study by Toast stated that lower pay, lack of recognition and poor management were ranked as the top three reasons contributing to turnover rates.

The pandemic then became the breaking point for multiple veteran employees to leave the restaurant business, leaving some restaurants having to find innovative ways to improve profit margins and customer outlook.

2. Options of the dining experience

Nowadays, you don’t have to travel to — or eat in — a restaurant to get a good meal.

“The pandemic taught consumers that you can still have a quality meal, and you don’t have to eat it in the restaurant,” said Joe Pawlak, managing principal of Technomic, a food research and consulting firm, per CNN.

From take-out, drive-thru, delivery or by phone app, Consumers now have plenty of options to order quality food without having to sit inside a restaurant to get it.

As an example, DoorDash and other third-party delivery apps exploded overnight and became vital for some restaurants during the pandemic, and are still popular food delivery services — albeit with pricing challenges, reported CNN.

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3. The transition from dining rooms

With more options to order food, some restaurants are changing — and getting rid of — lobbies.

The Deseret News, for example, mentioned McDonald’s “CosMC’s” drive-thru test seeing a successful run as a drive-thru only location.

And it’s not just a change in lobbies. Deseret News reported that the chain is moving to remove self-service soda machines and tighten lobbies in favor of drive-thru production.

CNN added that restaurants like Taco Bell are building locations without those lobbies, focusing on using the space for larger kitchens and more drive-thru spaces.

According to Daily Meal, lobbies were once a place to show brand identity, but are now opting for a “sleeker, more professional look.” As chain restaurants continue to build or rebuild lobbies, they might be built more for function rather than consumer attraction.