As restaurants reset, many trends have emerged as viable options to drive sales and increase overall efficiency for operators. In response to the pandemic challenges, we have seen a tremendous amount of innovation and the implementation of new digital technologies and other trends that provide operational solutions to help restaurants survive and thrive.
Even as eager consumers return to in-restaurant dining experiences, digital ordering habits are here to stay. According to a recent study, purchases via technology (apps, or online including 3rd-party delivery) accounted for 25% of all restaurant purchases in 2020. While 3rd-party delivery has leveled some, brand-specific online and app ordering has seen a marked increase for delivery and takeout. This brand-owned channel will continue to grow as it gives restaurants critical customer data, and consumers seem to prefer the ability to order directly. Opportunities for quick service to your guests in the form of app-based ordering linked with heated food lockers have proven to drive guest satisfaction in various studies. Additionally, many operators have found themselves sticking with the QR code menu format as it lessens contact with guests and promotes workflow efficiency. Some have gone one step further and linked their QR menus directly to their POS system to allow guests to order straight from their phone. Many signs point to customers wanting to stay digitally engaged after the pandemic.
Packaging has been often overlooked as merely a box to carry food from one place to another. However, Gary Kanfer, owner of Kissaki Omakase in New York, had the vision and resources to engineer and produce to-go packaging that has wowed their customers with its thoughtfulness and sleek design and being “Instagrammable-worthy.”
According to a recent study, “More than three-quarters of full-service restaurants, including 86% of fine-dining establishments, report that they have upgraded their takeout packaging since the pandemic began.” Additionally, operators are listening and responding to customer requests to switch to more sustainable and biodegradable products. While these products tend to cost about 20% more than traditional options, many operators believe it’s been worth it.
Continued Focus on Health and Safety
While always an important factor in restaurants, the pandemic brought cleanliness and safety to the forefront. Zagat’s Future of Dining Study found that “3 in 4 diners say health and safety concerns are their biggest deterrent to dining out in person.” Therefore, it will continue to be critical that restaurants are transparent about their cleanliness procedures. Single-use menus, disposable silverware, hand-sanitizer stations, individual or pre-packaged meals, and employees wearing masks will continue to be the norm.
Due to restaurant supply chain issues during the height of the pandemic, many restaurants were forced to evaluate their menu offerings and reduced options to their best-selling items. Menu items also shifted toward smaller portions, using more local ingredients. We will continue to see restaurants offering non-traditional options. The Zagat Survey found that “38% of consumers have ordered non-traditional delivery items including meal kits, grocery items, and alcoholic beverages, and 59% of consumers will continue to do so after the pandemic.”
Updated Restaurant Footprint
Managing volume in the post-COVID era means accounting for all the space in your restaurant you cannot use due to limited capacity measures. With social distancing guidelines likely to stay for some time and more consumers choosing takeout and delivery options, we anticipate fewer tables spread out and less bar and open seating in restaurant interiors. Restaurants must rethink their spaces and it will be critical to offer clear pathways and directions for anyone entering a restaurant, including adding multiple entry points for diners who are looking for a table, picking up, or placing a carry-out order. Additionally, outdoor dining options was one of the biggest factors in diners returning to in-person restaurants. Many customers came to love outdoor dining areas, and we anticipate these creative outdoor dining solutions will become permanent fixtures in restaurants.
It is imperative that restaurants continue to adapt and look for ways to innovate their service, menu, and guest experience in a post-pandemic world. Operators must keep their finger on the pulse of what matters to customers and adjust accordingly. Focusing on these things will keep your customers coming back long after the pandemic is over.