In one fell swoop, COVID-19  put an end to salad bars, hot-food buffets and other types of self-serve operations that have become popularized in takeout restaurants and grocery stores over the past decade.  And even as establishments reopen, self-serve buffets may be thing of the past because it’s nearly impossible to control the spread of germs with shared-serving utensils and customers breathing all over the glass.

So what’s to become of the spaces that once housed buffets? On a recent trip to the Harris-Teeter near my house, I saw that the store had repurposed the hot food bar into a festive display of locally grown produce from area farmers’ markets.  Many customers, myself included were drawn to the colorful bounty which looks much more attractive than the dried out, greasy hot bar foods ever did.

As the pandemic ebbs and flows and normalcy starts to look a lot more like working from home, remote hearings and continued social distancing, law firms need to start thinking seriously about how to replace what’s old with something better. In other words, instead of just throwing up a client portal as a stop-gap, it may make more sense for firms to upgrade their online presence to make it more appealing.  Instead of preparing for in-person trials, firms may want to evaluate any benefits from online dispute resolution.  What’s more, as we go in that direction, maybe we will see some innovation in tools that are offered.

It’s going to be a long time before most people feel truly comfortable with in-person meetings.  To assume that September 2020 will look identical to September 2019 is irresponsibly optimistic.  It’s time to start thinking about business models that will work in uncertain time and start building that instead of going backwards.  Out with the old and in with the new.  As the display at Harris Teeter shows, the results can be spectacular.