With multiple COVID-19 vaccines demonstrating success, the restaurant industry can finally look towards 2021 with optimism. Pent-up guest demand points towards the possibility of higher than usual dining room traffic towards the end of next year. However, the road to recovery will still be a difficult one due to winter virus surges, limited vaccine availability, and uncertainty in vaccine effectiveness.

What can your restaurant do now to prepare for the uncertainty while maximizing your revenue when guest traffic recovers? The key is to increase staff efficiency and embrace digital proficiency. We use our over 11 years of hospitality industry expertise to examine the COVID-19 vaccine timeline for the next year and advise you on the best steps to take to prepare.

Winter 2021: Improve Operational Efficiency

As things currently stand, 40 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine may be available to Americans by the end of the year. From what public health organizations have recommended so far, we can predict that healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be the first people to receive the vaccine. The first 40 million doses will be nearly enough to cover almost all health care workers and nursing home residents in the US.

The next group to receive vaccine doses are high-risk people such as elderly people, people with certain medical conditions, and essential workers. By March, 150 million doses of the vaccine could be available.

Restaurants should focus on increasing staff efficiency to provide consistent service during these uncertain times. Indoor dining restrictions may cycle on and off throughout the winter months. Additionally, a government stimulus package may expand unemployment benefits and hiring will prove more difficult. Contactless ordering solutions such as QR Code Order & Pay that supports indoor dining, to-go, online ordering, walk-up windows, and other channels will be crucial for restaurants to maximize revenue.

Late Spring 2021: Adapt to Uncertain Guest Traffic

Vaccine developers are aiming to make hundreds of millions of vaccine doses by spring 2021, meaning that the rest of the American population could start receiving vaccinations by late spring. However, vaccine availability may still be limited due to uncertainty in production. As such, it is likely that mass vaccinations of the public will take place throughout several months beginning in April.

The situation is still likely to be much more hopeful than the wintertime. Although social distancing guidelines will still be in place, most health care workers and high risk individuals will be vaccinated by spring. This means that further virus surges will be unlikely and hospitals will have enough capacity for all patients.

Overall, spring will be a time of cautious optimism for the restaurant industry. Indoor dining restrictions may lift but guest traffic will remain inconsistent as public health officials evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccinations on halting the pandemic. Rather than increasing staff levels immediately, operators should develop strategies to manage staffing in the face of uncertain guest traffic. Solutions such as Lobby Kiosks help cut down on wait times and increase check sizes without the need to hire more staff.

Summer 2021: Welcome Guests Back With an Improved Guest Experience

Mass vaccinations throughout the spring months mean that the impact of the pandemic will be significantly lessened by summer. Families and friends will reunite more often in public settings, and traveling for leisure will grow.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people still wear masks and practice social distancing even after receiving 2 doses of the vaccine. Consumer confidence will receive a great boost after mass vaccinations, but the effects of the pandemic will not be entirely gone yet.

The summer 2021 period will be a new normal for the restaurant industry in the sense that guest traffic will see a healthy recovery, yet some pandemic habits will still remain. Guests will be looking for a fulfilling dining experience after staying home for so long, so restaurants should be prepared to impress. Restaurants can welcome back guests with contactless dining solutions that personalize their experience while ensuring their safety.

Fall and Winter 2021: Captivate Guests With Digital Proficiency

If vaccine deployment and effectiveness proceed as expected, guest traffic could be back to normal by late fall. Many social distancing guidelines will likely ease during this time. Guest traffic may even exceed normal levels due to pent-up demand from the past year and a half.

After adopting more digital-focused habits during a year and a half of the pandemic, guests will be pleased to have control over their dining experiences at their fingertips. Restaurants can enable guests to order and pay on demand through various technologies such as QR Code Order & Pay, Pay-At-Table Tablets, and Lobby Kiosks. These solutions also enable guests to view personalized menus and claim loyalty rewards, therefore driving check size and repeat visits.

The length of immunity following vaccination is still not known for COVID-19. Restaurants should aim for digital proficiency by this time to increase operational efficiency while offering guests a superior dining experience for maximized profitability. Solutions such as Server Handheld Tablets that reduce server trips to the POS terminal will prove useful for cutting costs and increasing guest happiness.


The development of successful vaccines has finally brought the end of the pandemic within reach. However, restaurants should still be judicious in how they staff and serve guests in the coming year. The road to recovery may be uncertain, but at least restaurants can utilize new technology and processes to keep the dining experience consistently welcoming for guests.

In our next article, we will outline the large changes in consumer behavior that will stay even after the pandemic is over and how your restaurant can prepare.