Restaurant Resilience: From Just Surviving to Thriving
by Cari Peek
At the beginning of 2020, the restaurant industry was thriving and was on track to reach nearly $900 billion in sales in the U.S. A few short months into the year, this industry, along with many others, was brought to its knees.While it still has a tough road ahead, the foodservice industry has proven its resilience through innovation, creativity, and reinvention. The short-term considerations have been handled masterfully by many in the industry. There was a quick pivot to online ordering/delivery models, and fast adoption of new service ideas.
As we all continue to make our way through the COVID madness, I would like to offer some long-term considerations to the industry to ensure lasting success.
Some restaurants had existing partnerships going into the COVID world. Others quickly followed suit for survival. Some restaurants never imagined themselves entering a delivery model, but COVID forced it. It is important to remember that your delivery-service partner, whoever that may be, is an extension of your brand. Like it or not, it’s the restaurant whose reputation gets dinged anytime an order arrives to a customer late, is incorrect, or didn’t hold up well in transit. It’s important to consider how your delivery partnership is impacting your brand reputation, and to find ways to work with your partner, or work to find the right partner for you, to optimize your customers’ experiences and keep them coming back.
Many restaurant menus have undergone drastic changes since COVID hit. We see fewer menu items to accommodate labor shortages and supply chain interruptions, and to allow for greater cross-utilization of ingredients to control cost. So long, shareables. Hello, family-style meals and more menu items that travel well to accommodate the increased delivery/takeout traffic. And the list goes on. As we settle into our new world, careful consideration should be given to menus. It’s vital that the available options are optimized for both customer loyalty and for your margins. What should stay? What should go? What voids need to be filled in the current menu to help avoid the veto of one family member? Menu optimization research can help model an ideal menu to maximize profitability or maximize “reach” among consumers, and can make ordering easier for the consumer.
It is likely that the days of small, crowded dining rooms are gone. Rethinking the interior design of dining rooms will soon become a must. Diners will want to feel like they are in a clean and safe environment while they enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Tables, table settings, flooring, wall décor, staff attire, spacing, wall placement/dividers, bar areas, ventilation systems, lobby/check-in areas, and much more will need to be rethought in the post-COVID dining room. Innovation and creativity will be vital for this effort.
The pandemic forced several years’ worth of technology implementation into just a few short months. We saw a high-speed shift to new point-of-sale technology and to online ordering systems, a greater social media presence, and more. While the adoption of new technology was long overdue within the industry, the speed at which it was implemented almost certainly causes potential for gaps. Usability testing is strongly recommended to find glitches or user pain points and to ensure that all new technologies are working to enhance service and customer relationships.
Pricing & Promotions
Many in the industry quickly opted for extreme discounting and promotions to drive traffic during the pandemic. It served as a quick fix but should be carefully reviewed, as this strategy has the potential to do damage by setting long-term consumer expectations to these lower prices. As you make your way through COVID and beyond, pricing strategy research will be important for understanding what will drive the most revenue while not damaging your brand’s reputation.
The many changes that have occurred over the last few months have been vital to the survival of the industry. The sheer speed with which these changes have been implemented make it imperative for the industry to take a step back for further evaluation.
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