Work colleagues with a laptop in a restaurant

Three Reasons Why Restaurants Are the New Conference Room

After the past year, just about all of our professional routines have been disrupted. Whether it’s where we work (home instead of office) or how we work (over Zoom instead of face-to-face), everything is different in the Covid era. We’re wearing multiple hats and taking on new responsibilities as demands on our time and skills change to meet circumstances that continue to shift, rather than settle. Being productive? That depends almost entirely on how well we’re able to pivot and cope.

Perhaps because of this, an interesting narrative that’s been running in the background is now starting to surface: the relationships side of work is also changing – and companies are paying attention. 

This is great news for restaurants. Actually, it’s fantastically great news for restaurants, because their profile with business diners is about to become that much more important: restaurants are quickly becoming the new remote conference room of choice. Here are three reasons why restaurants can take that statement to the bank.

Restaurants as Conference Rooms Reason No. 1: The Pandemic Has Pushed Reset on What It Means to ‘Go to Work’

According to research from, only around 5 million employees (roughly 3.6 percent of U.S. workforce) were working from home in 2018. In April 2020, just weeks into pandemic lockdowns, Global Workplace was predicting “25-30 percent of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.” Fast forward to today, more than a year into what they call the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment,” and they’re estimating that percentage will be even higher.

So, with our newsfeeds reporting a steady stream of major companies declaring their membership on Team Work-From-Home, Team Back-to-the-Office, or Team Hybrid, it’s clear that whether you’re a fan of working from home or not, how we work is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition. The pandemic has obliterated the idea that in-office work is everyone’s default norm.

Restaurants as Conference Rooms Reason No. 2: The Pandemic Has Made Us Value Our Connections Even More

Last spring, Zoom became our lifeline for meeting with clients and socializing with colleagues, and everyone showed up for (the first of many, many) virtual happy hours. People who, prior to COVID, you never would have imagined joining an online cooking class or mixology demonstration surprised you – and themselves – with their all-in participation.

We craved those connections with others and easily assimilated video calls and virtual social events into our routines, making them habits we’ll continue even after the pandemic ends. At the same time, employers embraced these workarounds as legitimately safe and vital ways to get business done and keep clients and employees engaged (while being conveniently less expensive than many traditional, in-person meeting options).

As more and more virtual meeting hours have accrued, however, we’ve also recognized the deficiencies of online-only interactions. Research from Microsoft and the Harvard Business Review, for example, indicates that our collective social capital – “the benefits people can get because of who they know” – has suffered under our pandemic-imposed professional isolation. We’ve had more meetings, but fewer occasions for impromptu ‘nice-to-meet-you’s. More scheduled productivity, but less free-flowing ideas and collaboration. Less on-the-spot mentoring. Less organic networking.

Even if they’re not quantifying changes in Microsoft Teams chat volume, employers are recognizing that despite satisfaction with work-from-home from an operational standpoint, their workforces still need a certain level of face-to-face interaction.

So, between realizing work-from-home operational efficiencies and nurturing social capital, which one wins? Fortunately, with restaurants at the ready, companies are recognizing they don’t have to choose. 

Restaurants as Conference Rooms Reason No. 3: The Pandemic-Related Office Space Reduction Has Opened the Doors of Opportunity for Restaurants

As more of the population gets vaccinated, hospitalization rates are dropping, and individuals are starting to feel safer about resuming some of their pre-pandemic behaviors. Restaurant operators are already experiencing the beginning of a recovery in consumer foot traffic; it’s only a matter of time before they see business diners return – in some cases, in even greater numbers than before the pandemic.

According to research from the Global Business Travel Association, 44 percent of business travel professionals in a recent GBTA survey say that as domestic business travel resumes, “more business meetings with clients and customers will be held in non-traditional settings such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops,” and so on.

Additionally, 51 percent of business travel professionals who said their companies’ employees will have more flexibility to work from home moving forward also said it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that they would be revising their travel and expense policies to account for an increase in remote working – presumably at least partially in anticipation of that increase in more frequent restaurant meet-ups.

There simply is no substitute for in-person interactions and restaurants represent an ideal venue for getting people together. Without the expectation of being required to conduct all business on company grounds, increasing numbers of professionals will be wooing clients and catching up with co-workers from whatever locations are most convenient, hospitable, and suitable to their needs. This means the ball is in restaurants’ court.

Savvy restaurant operators will want to capitalize on this trend by digging into the business diner’s perspective and promoting their dining rooms, private rooms and patios as safe and great options for employees to use for meetings.

It’s a new day for restaurants and business diners alike – and both are ready to get back to the table.  

Ready to dine now? Visit Dinova’s online restaurant search tool or download the mobile app to search and filter restaurants by location, safety precautions, and amenities.

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