The first quarter of 2021 is the right time to jump-start the recovery process from COVID-19. The virus will still be a major factor going forward and the time spent in lockdown has given every industry a plan to forge ahead. Retail and restaurant companies have turned some gaping holes into strengths that will provide new opportunities for growth as we move deeper into the year. Some chains have lent their expertise to local government to help bring an end to the pandemic. Of course, places like movie theaters are still playing a waiting game with the pandemic while making plans for when we crest that hill.

Lessons learned in 2020

For the restaurant industry, the closure of dining rooms was an unpredictable move and the use of delivery and online ordering were the best short term options to offset the decline in traffic. Some dining rooms across the U.S. are still closed and those that are open face the tall task of convincing diners to come inside, sometimes with limited capacity. 2021’s first quarter has presented the industry with a solution to this problem in the form of new restaurant designs. Everyone from quick service chains like Burger King and fast casual locations like Tijuana Flats are putting their own spin on store formats. Some of the new features we are seeing this year include extra drive-thru lanes, food pick-up windows and lockers, and places with no dining rooms. These innovations are part of a trend in the restaurant and retail industries to create solutions to the pandemic problem and also for the future.

Perhaps the most interesting development of 2021 is the willingness of various industries to reach across the table to help everyone manage COVID-19. As the rollout of vaccines increases daily, retail and restaurant companies are lending their assistance to speed up the process. Walmart, Microsoft, and Amazon are lending their operational support to the federal government and offering to use their properties as vaccination sites. Meanwhile, Starbucks is giving logistical aide to its native Washington State in planning their vaccine distribution. It’s even gone as a local Chick-fil-A manager in Mt Pleasant, N.C. using his drive-thru expertise to sort out issues at a vaccination site. This kind of cooperation is unprecedented of and may be what it takes to push back against COVID-19. It portrays a positive picture that these large corporations do see an end to the pandemic in sight and are willing to dedicate resources to pull the finish line closer.

A faster end to the pandemic would benefit every industry, however movie theaters may benefit most. Blockbuster films have served as a barometer as to when we may see a return to normalcy. Many films that were slated to release last year were delayed until the first quarter of 2021. We have now arrived to that timeframe as more films are being pushed back into the second and third quarters of the year. This is certainly an indication that there is still work to be done. This was one example of the need for a physical footprint that has been displayed by other industries in 2021.

The digital format has become a great boon for many companies, while there are still those who will benefit from a traditional physical or hybrid approach. The first quarter of the year has given us a glimpse into the future and hope that the end of the pandemic is closer than the beginning.