The old saying, “the only thing constant is change,” has never been truer. And so, we must adapt, and that requires a shift in mindset from headwinds to tailwinds. Of course, we all need to keep a pulse on what’s immediately impacting us and react appropriately, but it’s also vital to look ahead.
Adapting to the current conditions and to aspects of what really may be a new normal is vital. As consumer demand slows largely due to inflationary pressures, business diners have become even more crucial—they’ve also become a tailwind pushing opportunities and revenue to new heights. Stats from event and hospitality intelligence firm Knowland’s Q2 Meeting Recovery Forecast suggest off-site meetings will reach 72 percent of 2019 levels by year-end. Furthermore, Knowland’s findings project these meetings will eclipse pre-Covid numbers, clocking in at 106 percent of its 2019 baseline by the end of 2023—a figure that’s expected to outpace the rate of workers returning to the office.
Per Dinova’s proprietary Business Dining Index, small and medium-sized restaurants have exceeded their pre-pandemic performance since last year. Dinova’s latest report puts that sector’s business dining spend at 111 percent of 2019 levels as of Q3 2022. The same report has large enterprises at 68 percent of the same quarter in 2019—the highest they’ve reached since the start of Covid. Many organizations are tracking variables like this to understand the impact of employees not returning to the office. Research from real estate technology solutions provider Kastle Systems shows that buildings across 10 major cities show only a 43.2 percent occupancy average compared to pre-Covid levels. (It should be noted that there are some wide-ranging averages. For example, Philadelphia is at 38 percent occupancy, and Austin, Texas, is at 57 percent.)
Come what may, business goes on; deals need to be closed, employees need to bond with one another, and overall company culture depends on special experiences and events. As we move into the private dining season, escalating the value proposition, creating demand, and targeting the decision-makers for off-site business events are all essential.
This means the pressure meeting planners are feeling to locate the right venues will only escalate. Premium concierge services will be paramount to take advantage of the evolving needs in the restaurant world and outsourcing these services is a rising trend.
As collaboration is key, I reached out to chief marketing officers from a range of restaurants, including fine dining (MINA Group), polished casual (Pacific Catch), and fast casual (Urban Plates). We discussed how each is formulating an impactful strategic plan against a backdrop full of landmines and also capitalizing on the tailwinds. Each concept had its own priorities, which can be distilled into the following:
1. Focus on your value proposition
“The industry is wrestling with the combination of inflation and the public pulling back on spending. There is a lot of discounting out there, and it’s clouding the public’s ability to reset their understanding of what value is in the face of inflation. As a brand that’s dedicated to everyday value, Urban Plates focuses on our core value proposition by emphasizing the value surety of our lower-priced entrées along with the craveability of our menu favorites.”—Steve Greer, Urban Plates
2. Create demand
“With remote and hybrid working, it seems more difficult than ever to reach decision-makers for business events and holiday catering. As a result, we are focused less on ‘selling’ and more on ‘demand generation.’ For us, this means developing more creative packages, investing in great photography, leveraging gift cards as rebate incentives for event bookers, and promoting our offer primarily via geo-targeted digital and paid local search.”—Steve Kelly, Pacific Catch
3. Target meeting planners
“The driver for dining in this dynamic and ever-shifting world has changed for consumers, but even more so for businesses. [Business dining] is a way to balance the benefits of remote work and meeting in person—with very high stakes. It is critical to find the right venue to match the persona of the attendees. Luckily, many of our restaurants are located in markets with temperate climates year-round coupled with great outdoor options that many clients still prefer. We are also seeing more indulgence both at the individual level and with groups which is exactly what MINA Group restaurants deliver so well. Promoting your restaurant’s features and offerings to the corporate meeting planners, event specialist, and concierges is key to increasing volume and higher total sales.”—Leah Smith, MINA Group
Adding to Smith’s point, the Global Business Travel Association recently reported that meeting and event planners are juggling more responsibilities than ever, including expectations that events be pulled together in a third of the time. This pressure will lead to more outsourcing in the private event space, and restaurants that can help these time- and resource-strapped planners will have a marked advantage in bringing in new business dining opportunities.
Liz Geavaras is the director of strategic partnerships at Dinova. For the past 20-plus years, she has worked for multiple restaurant brands, including Daily Grill, Country Kitchen, TGI Fridays, Elephant Bar, Public School, Grill on the Alley, and Black Angus Steakhouse. A forward-thinking professional with provable success in planning, developing, and executing marketing programs, Geavaras recently joined Dinova to expand its national restaurant partnerships.