Helping the restaurant industry bounce back

Pictured Above: Yiran Liu, a 2nd-year PhD student in Hospitality and Tourism Management, works as a TA in the John Purdue Room, a restaurant and teaching lab that was temporarily closed in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Written by Korina Wilbert

“I heard about [COVID-19] starting in January of this year. I realized there was a pandemic, but at that time, I wasn’t thinking much about how it would impact our industry or how it would change my research topic,” said Yiran Liu, a 2nd-year PhD student in Hospitality and Tourism Management. “Then around March everything changed. We had to shut down campus and move everything online. Then we had the stay-at-home orders and the dining restrictions. I saw that all of our stakeholders were impacted by this. Then I realized, yeah, this is going to be a big thing.”

Before the pandemic, Liu was working on a study related to face-to-face hospitality with high human touch in the restaurant industry. COVID-19 had a “huge impact,” forcing him to shift his study to include perceptions of pandemic-related risk associated with dine-in, takeout, and delivery. His longitudinal study will assess how changes in restaurant purchases at various stages during the pandemic were induced by consumers’ risk perceptions and the impacts of those changes on the industry.

The insights gleaned from the study could provide restauranteurs with practical suggestions to help reduce the perception of risk. The results could also inform local government officials who are developing safety policies that affect the restaurant industry and messaging to educate restaurant-goers about measures they can take to protect themselves.

Liu knows firsthand the impact of the pandemic on a restaurant. He works as a teaching assistant in the John Purdue Room, a restaurant and teaching lab for undergraduate students that was shut down in the spring semester. Liu reflected on the challenge of teaching students how to operate restaurant without the benefit of having an actual restaurant: “We had to pivot all our classes online. The students did case studies and restaurant simulation activities online to train their minds on how to handle situations.”

The John Purdue Room reopened during the fall semester. The tables were set up to be socially distanced, and customers are returning for the popular $9 three-course meal.

“It’s going to be a long-term process,” Liu said of the recovery of the restaurant industry. “Our research must keep up with the trends. We have to consider how we can help our customers survive in this environment. The intensity is higher.”