Are restaurants ready for what comes next?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Apr 22, 2021
Patricia Vekich Waldron

The morning rush looks different now.  So do our diets, as we rethink our meal, food and nutrition choices. The International Food Information Council says that more than four out of five of us have changed food habits during the pandemic. Food service companies are responding to these changes with new service levels, offerings and formats.

Routines change

Changes to daily routines, like the morning commute, mean we cook, eat, shop and think differently about food, especially breakfast. We’re shifting from meals to snacks and rethinking when we eat. Brunch has become a big(ger) business. Restaurants have added more — and more interesting — breakfast items to menus and serve them throughout the day. Many places, including traditional a.m. stops like coffee shops, offer to-go kits filled with pastries, fruit and savory dishes as well as easy-to-eat items like breakfast sandwiches and burritos. They make getting a coffee a special treat and offer creative to-go cocktail kits.

We are what we eat

Diets are bifurcating to either support immunity or provide comfort. Restaurants and retailers have a chance to offer consumers options that are healthy, healthyish or not. They can make it easy for shoppers to find natural, clean labels and ingredients. Some are partnering with local chefs, purveyors and artisans to support the local food ecosystem and feature limited-time offers at a variety of price points and calorie levels. This gives consumers a break from cooking, access to seasonal ingredients and the option to try new items any time of day.

Tech is on the menu

The how and where of getting our food has changed, and new behaviors, such as online ordering, meal kit subscriptions and outdoor dining, will continue. Operators can optimize their physical footprint — or create new formats — with smaller indoor dining areas, more outdoor space, a second drive-thru dedicated to online order pick-up, kiosks for areas where drive-thru doesn’t make sense and new walk-up concepts adjacent to full-service units that offer a subset of the menu. All these options are designed to serve guests, ensure safety, speed digital ordering and improve experience, especially during times when extra quick service is demanded.

The relationships Americans have with food has changed during the pandemic. Many restaurants and foodservice providers have fallen by the wayside. Survivors, by and large, have adapted to this new reality. What will it take to keep up with what’s coming next? That is now and has always been the question.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think restaurants and other foodservice providers have adapted well to changes brought about as a result of the pandemic? What products, services, technology or other developments do you think will influence consumers’ use of these businesses in the next several years?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Consumers will rebound to desired dining habits with one exception — anything that they found more convenient or enjoyable during the pandemic."
"As we return to normal, I predict that some of the new ways restaurants operated in the past year will not go away. Customers found them convenient..."
"Where the smart money should go is on de-risking restaurants for future events..."

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11 Comments on "Are restaurants ready for what comes next?"


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Ben Ball
BrainTrust

The critical phrase here is “during the pandemic.” Consumers will rebound to desired dining habits with one exception — anything that they found more convenient or enjoyable during the pandemic. Best example? Online ordering. Chipotle just reported continued stellar growth in digital orders in March, equaling levels last seen in May 2020 when takeout was the only option most Americans had for restaurant food. That one is here to stay.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I am not entirely convinced about smaller indoor dining areas. In Arizona, restaurants are open at full capacity and most full service ones are busy both inside and out! People are, and increasingly will, get back to dining out. However, other structural changes make sense: dedicated areas for order collection, curbside services, better drive-thru facilities in quick service restaurants, and so forth will all support trends that are likely to persist.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Many (I don’t know if most) restaurants and food service retailers have adapted well to the conditions brought on by the pandemic. The changes that will stick, and even increase are ordering online, improved delivery, sidewalk/outdoor dining (then we will only be 50 years behind the Europeans and Latin Americans in that category). Behind every cloud, there is a silver lining.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Ha! Agreed on the sidewalk dining. But for some reason, sidewalk dining just seems much more appealing in Madrid than Manhattan. Maybe it is our concrete jungles that discourage it?

George Anderson
Staff

Haven’t been to Madrid but I know places I’ve eaten at in Paris are on much larger sidewalk spaces than those on most of Manhattan’s streets. You don’t feel pushed up against pedestrians or are pushed near a grated vent steaming up stink from below the ground.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Some restaurants have adapted better than others. In the past year they transitioned to outside dining, curbside pickup, delivery, etc. Restaurants that never did any of those are now doing all of them — and more. They had to. Some restaurants had pay-per-view cooking shows to supplement income. Some catered private meals in people’s homes. There were plenty of ways for restaurants to adapt to the changing ways that the pandemic forced on them.

As we return to normal, I predict that some of the new ways restaurants operated in the past year will not go away. Customers found them convenient and the restaurants will now have an additional channel (or more) of revenue.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust
My measure of how effective they have been is simple. They have survived in extraordinarily difficult times. My colleagues have summarized how many have implemented new procedure that will stick. I will emphasize what has happened in NYC that will change the equation for this city restauranting forever. When the pandemic hit, the city wisely permitted restaurants to take up street space for dining. For those operators who grabbed onto this opportunity, it was a savior. Many actually had more space outside than inside. It added life and vitality to a city that was quieted by the pandemic. On a nice day, all the outdoor tables were full. (Strangely, many restaurateurs, large and small did not take advantage of this opportunity.) It was so popular that the city decided to extend it permanently. (I am sitting outside at the moment with my coffee and computer.) The trade off of losing parking spaces and traffic lanes has been a boom to restaurant operators who tool advantage of it. Those who did not and still are operating… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust
According to a National Restaurant Survey in December 2020, “17% of US restaurants — or about 110,000 establishments — have permanently closed down, with 10,000 closing in the last three months alone. The majority of restaurants that closed were not brand-new businesses, the association found: on average, they’d been in business for 16 years.” This is indeed a terrible situation. However, those that have survived have done so by being adaptive. Many of the changes have been noted in the article. However, I believe that the biggest opportunity still lies on the take out side of the business. To achieve even greater penetration in this growing part of the business, two changes need to be made. 1. Re-engineer the food offering. Preparing a meal for immediate consumption is a different process than a meal to go. 2. Change the packaging. The old Styrofoam neither does the job of maintaining food quality nor properly represents the image of the restaurant. Food retailers are going to go after this segment and will use the above tactics as… Read more »
Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

In addition to greater technology adoptions and process changes, what has been revealing is the partnering benefits between the public and private sectors. Many communities have adopted variances and closed streets to traffic to encourage foot traffic and expand outdoor dining. Consumers have responded favorably to these changes, and municipalities have enabled small retail establishments to survive and even strive while supporting the local tax base.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

Once the majority of the population are vaccinated, people will return to restaurants in full force, so most companies aren’t interested in spending large dollars to completely reinvent the wheel. I live in Georgia where not only are restaurants at full capacity, but people are so happy to be out they are practically hugging total strangers.

Where the smart money should go is on de-risking restaurants for future events, which means investing in elevating the dining experience, investing in staff, and diversifying their services to give customers a range of integrated online and offline options.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m curious what the many — actually a plurality (at this point) — who voted (only)”somewhat” effectively, thought should have been done differently; perhaps it’s simply the desire to go with a choice “in the middle somewhere,” but IMHO restaurants made a heroic effort … the only regrettable part is that the qualifier “surviving” had to be added.

As for what changes, if any, will remain, perhaps some places that didn’t previously offer takeout will stay with it, but that’s inversely related to pricing: the long-term demand for a $900 “to go” meal is likely small.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Consumers will rebound to desired dining habits with one exception — anything that they found more convenient or enjoyable during the pandemic."
"As we return to normal, I predict that some of the new ways restaurants operated in the past year will not go away. Customers found them convenient..."
"Where the smart money should go is on de-risking restaurants for future events..."

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