With the recent good news on COVID-19 vaccine development, many of us are ready to fast forward to summer 2021 and put 2020 behind us. However, it’s important to remember that by this point, Americans have experienced nearly 10 months of living under social distancing restrictions. This is more than enough time for habits to change permanently.
As leaders in the restaurant industry, we need to foresee new consumer trends in order to successfully prepare for them. What kinds of guests will frequent restaurants in the new year? Which restaurant concepts will see a boost in traffic? Let’s break down the most likely and significant changes that will happen to guest behavior post-pandemic.
During the pandemic, restaurants have enjoyed lighter restrictions compared to other public places such as movie theaters and sports stadiums. This means that they will also be the first to open up completely after a successful vaccine rollout. After a year of cooking (and cleaning up dishes!) at home, people will jump at the chance to relax and dine out again.
One of the largest changes to take place will be the number of people who shift to telecommuting permanently. Remote work used to be an exception. But according to a November BCG study, 40 percent of employees want flexibility in where they can work going forward.
Employees aren’t the only ones eyeing the perks of working remotely. Companies are also realizing the savings that they can reap from reducing office space. In a survey, CFOs responded that they plan to move 20 percent of their employees to remote work to save costs.
As less people commute to offices, restaurants in urban areas may see slower growth in traffic. Instead, suburban restaurants should see a significant lift from people working from home. Fast-casual chains are already re-evaluating their downtown locations that used to be favorite places for quick lunches.
With more time spent at home, an increasing number of Americans are discovering their inner chef. According to a study done by Hunter, 54 percent of Americans are cooking more than they were before the pandemic. With more people cooking lunch at home on work days, lunch traffic will likely see a similar decline that breakfast traffic has seen. People will instead save their dining out quota for dinner gatherings with family and friends.
Fine dining has been particularly hard-hit as wallets tighten up during the tough financial environment of the pandemic. Many switched to delivering groceries directly to would-be guests as their food inventory sat unused during stay-at-home orders. As people get vaccinated and gain immunity, they will return to fine dining restaurants for postponed celebrations and simply to enjoy life again.
With dining room closures sweeping across the nation again, most guests are likely accustomed to having their meals to-go now. While dining-in will likely see a healthy recovery in traffic, the most opportunity for growth will be seen in off-premise channels such as takeout, curbside pickup, and drive-thru. According to Technomic’s report, 66 percent of consumers anticipate continuing to use curbside pickup even after dine-in services resume.
It’s undeniable that technology has played a leading role in helping people adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, technological innovation has become a necessity for the restaurant industry. Many restaurants have created make-shift online ordering solutions during dining room closures. Others have been testing self-service technology such as QR code ordering and payments or kiosks.
With increasing operating costs and minimum wage, restaurants will still need technology solutions to boost labor productivity and increase table turnover. Guests are also becoming more tech-savvy than ever as they pick up on using new online ordering systems and apps. Technology will be key to creating personalized dining experiences and quality service.
Like 9/11 that changed how people travel forever, the restaurant industry will see tectonic changes in guest behaviors. As leaders, we need to prepare for these new trends before they happen. The post-pandemic future will be a huge opportunity for growth that releases pent-up guest demand. But only the businesses that are most prepared will be able to win in the grab for market share.
The key is to remain flexible to changing guest trends and regulations with the help of technology. Whether your restaurant runs on a fast-casual or casual dining model, your business will benefit from upgrading your digital ordering system. This might look like placing QR codes in the parking lot for guests to place orders on their phones, or pre-order kiosks for guests waiting in the lobby. Is your chain trying to optimize new store locations? Computer vision can help you pull reports on real-time performance of different locations. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the best customized solution for your business.