Pa. builder predicts big changes for restaurants in post-COVID-19 world

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — How restaurants look and operate in the future could be much different from what diners were used to before the coronavirus struck. 

As the industry adapts, builders are trying to anticipate changes in restaurant design, as one Pennsylvania construction company is learning in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stacey Lott, 45, took over from her father Frank as president of LOTT Restaurant Construction in the beginning of March — just in time to see everything change.

"I said, ‘You know what? If I can make it through this, there isn't anything in the world that can scare me away from anything else,’” she says.

Lott and her team are working on a restaurant in Center City. With new safety guidelines in place, work days must be longer so they can meet their deadlines. Eight-hour days are now 16-hour days, with staggered start and break times tot workers.

"The goal is the deadline. So we refined how we are going to get there,” Lott said.

Body temperature checks, managed social distancing, face masks and frequent hand-washing are among other additional measures.

Lott says what the future holds for building designs is still up in the air. Some options being explored include outdoor dining areas and new technology for filtering the air and sanitizing surfaces. She says it’s possible in the future that restaurants will use less indoor dining space and have larger kitchens — or even “cloud” kitchens, where chefs rent the preparation and cooking space, and patrons take the food off the premises to eat.

"They can't make money if people are afraid to come in. So if we can assure their customers, we're basically giving them something they can have as a back up, because now things have changed,” Lott said. “Life changes, and if you don't adapt to it, you are going to be left behind.”