Due to the coronavirus, restaurant operators had to pivot their business from in-person dining to takeout and curbside almost overnight. And now, as distancing mandates relax, and restaurants begin to reopen—albeit in limited fashion and in accordance with local and state regulations—restauranteurs are having to once again rethink their operations, this time to accommodate varying guidelines inside the restaurant. The question is: what do consumers expect now, and how can operators best meet those expectations?
Consumer preferences in the “New Norm”
COVID-19 has fundamentally shifted consumer expectations, whether it’s the way food should be served and delivered or how to pay the check at the end of the meal. To better serve guests in this new way of doing business, operators should keep in mind how these expectations have shifted in order to limit potential virus transmission in-store and more easily accommodate the increase in off-premise dining:
- “Contactless Everything”: Understandably, your guests now want to limit person-to-person interactions to reduce their risk of virus transmission. The less your guests have to exchange items with and touch other people or devices, the more comfortable they’ll feel about dining with you.
- Curbside Ordering and Pick-Up: While the shift to curbside ordering and pick-up was necessary for restaurants to continue their operations during mandated dining room closures, consumers have readily adopted—and in many ways now prefer—this convenient way to bring their favorite food home.
- Delivery: Consumers have responded to the ease of ordering food through third-party delivery services—a segment that was already growing quickly even before the pandemic. Now, consumers regularly turn to delivery as a reliable, low-contact way to get their food.
- Digital Ordering: Before the outbreak, guests were relying more heavily on digital ordering channels, with up to 58% of restaurant occasions occurring off-premise. In the midst of the pandemic and beyond, digital ordering is even more of a must-have for guests.
Operating in the “New Norm”
With the shift in consumer expectations, operators now have to ensure their restaurants deliver the experience their guests are looking for in a world shaped by the pandemic. To attract and keep customers, operators must provide a more attentive, reassuring and safe experience for their guests. And they have to do this while increasing table turns and satisfaction inside the restaurant, and convenience and order accuracy outside of it. Operators will also have to be nimble and flexible in both their day-to-day operations and future planning, as the day may come when they’ll have to close their dining rooms again.
It’s a lot to think about. So, to help you improve brand affinity and your ability to compete in a complicated new normal, here are some things to consider as you reopen your doors:
- How “contactless” is your restaurant? Making sure guests feel safe when dining in your restaurant is key to bringing them back again. From menus to payments, you have to evaluate everything a guest touches. In fact, a recent study by Datassential (April 2020) found 44% of consumers will require contactless payment options as part of a “safer restaurant experience.” So, take the time to evaluate how you can limit interactions and put more of the experience in the guests’ own hands, such as their mobile device.
- How effective are your off-prem operations? Digital ordering channels, and the fulfillment of those orders, will be critical. Once seen as “nice-to-haves” and “forward-thinking” – these are now table stakes in terms of your ability to succeed. Review your online presence: does your site make it easy to order? Is your brand well-represented? Also evaluate your digital order fulfillment process whether curbside or delivery: Is your staff efficient at fulfilling digital orders? Are there bottlenecks?
- How visible are your cleaning and sanitation procedures?From wearing masks to washing their hands properly to separating order fulfillment from payment, your entire team had to heighten their safety measures for serving guests at the drive-thru or curbside. What safety measures will you be taking after fully reopening? Remember that safety will be #1 to your guests, and they will expect to see the necessary changes in your space to feel comfortable dining there. This will be an important aspect to re-opening, and will be a deciding factor for guests considering future visits.
- How well do you know your customer base?When dining rooms were forced to close across the country, operators not only had to quickly pivot to curbside and delivery; more important, they also had to make sure their customers were aware that the restaurant was still open. Many operators were challenged with customer communications but didn’t have the appropriate programs or systems in place to contact their loyal guests. Take the time now to find and integrate systems that will help you better target your customers, particularly if you have to pivot your operations yet again in response to the pandemic.