Ten months after the US originally woke up to the COVID-19 threat, some restaurants in some areas of some states are reopening (though some may not have closed). But the industry still has a long way to go to return to what was considered normal before March 2020.
During a recent webinar on Restaurant Resilience, Technomic Consumer Insights Director Robert Byrne along with Culinary McCain Foods Director Chef Brooke Brantley looked at consumer attitudes toward takeout/delivery, value/price, safety/social responsibility and digital driver/innovation/menus. (Some findings are based on Technomic surveys).
Byrne noted that there is a consumer push for greater safety measures and that consumers are interested in improving quality. The industry’s challenge is keeping price in check but value has not been tied to price..
Chef Brantley pointed out that customization and product changes have worked to increase sales and interest. As examples he mentioned Wendy’s Made and Crave Chicken, Shake Shack’s Gourmet with Black Truffles and Arby’s addition of onion rings in sandwiches.
On the delivery vs carry-out question, they agreed that consumers feel more connected with the restaurant with the take-out option. That connection to a restaurant has helped pick-ups
This issue has been evolving with the pandemic. Whereas delivery had been more popular, now consumers are twice as likely to order takeout/ curb-side than delivery. The take-out trend has developed into a “restaurant road trip” where the consumer may consume the food in the car.
A summation concluded that delivery may be a spontaneous craving or not wanting to put shoes on but take-out can relate to a pre-pandemic restaurant routine meal destination and comfort.
Also, arrival timing is important with delivery because people are used to experience with Amazon.
“Ghost kitchens” where the order is prepared are becoming popular due to less overhead than in the full-service restaurant, but transparency is needed and the focus has to be on quality.
There was agreement on consumers returning to indoor dining when safe because of its social aspects. Both speakers said the pent-up demand is palatable.
They liked Chipotle’s order online apps.
Among positive online changes were menus that were shorter and user friendly such as that of a large pancake chain that drastically cut its menu size.
Regarding safety and activism, there was agreement that consumers appreciated restaurant efforts such as Quiznos to back social responsibility, diversity and inclusivity and taking a stand against racial inequality.
Chef Brantley said that the pandemic’s changes can also lead to innovation. He offered the example of La Gloria deliveries by a Margarita truck in Texas noting that having the colorful truck pull up is an event. “It’s become a staple of their business,” he said.
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