Business leaders typically navigate widespread disasters in three phases. First comes crisis mode followed by a period of stability before eventually moving forward while adjusting to the new realities of the day. Such is the case for the foodservice industry as it comes to grips with what its new reality may look like in a post-pandemic world.

In mid-March, COVID-19 went from an epidemic to a full-blown pandemic. Government shelter-in-place orders limited how restaurants and other foodservice operators could function in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. The changes cut deep and wide and spared no industry segment.

Subsequently, this trickled down to most links of the supply chain. Operators furloughing or outright laying off employees may have garnered headlines from mainstream media, but the fact remains dealers, manufacturers, reps, service agents and other members of the supply chain found themselves taking similar action. This was the crisis period with many leaders striving to save their organizations so employees have businesses to come back to and operators have a partner to work with once the economy reopens.

By mid-April, the industry seemingly entered a relatively stable period. Layoffs were gradually starting to slow down, and all businesses were adapting to the temporary new normal. For operators that meant some businesses intensified their efforts on takeout and delivery — the only options remaining for the time being — while others realized this was no longer worth the effort and closed their doors hoping to ride out the pandemic. Some became grocers, selling pantry staples and even meals for four, as many consumers — including yours truly — embraced the shelter-in-place period to revive a long-lost American tradition: the family meal. Healthcare operators leveraged their peer networks to find ways to serve nutritious meals to patients recovering from COVID-19 as well as support the medical personnel providing the much-needed care.

For members of the supply chain, the daily routine now includes time on video calls managing ongoing projects, many of which remain in progress; sharpening their equipment acumen via vendor training and attending industry webcasts trying to make more sense of the chaos.

What’s next? When will the U.S. be open for business again? When it does reopen, at what rate will the pace of business accelerate? What will it look like when we can safely return to public places together? What actions will government take to protect citizens and try to prevent this pandemic from rearing its ugly head once again? How will that impact the way operators prepare and serve food to consumers? These are the questions the foodservice industry will look to answer in the coming months and possibly years as it enters phase three and prepares to move past COVID-19.

Inspirational stories of various foodservice professionals motivated to take action continue to serve as rays of hope piercing the dark clouds of COVID-19. From operators donating food to frontline personnel to factories manufacturing personal protective equipment to consultants helping healthcare operators bring long-shuttered hospitals back online to meet anticipated onslaughts of COVID-19 patients that everyone hoped would never come, the industry’s resourceful and innovative nature was on full display. It’s those traits of innovation and resourcefulness, paired with a strong sense to serve, that will lead this industry forward toward healthful growth.