Restaurants will need to recover quickly to make up for losses, and that will require adjustments.
Virtually every industry will emerge from the pandemic changed, and food services will shift more than most. The COVID impact on restaurants has been extreme, with at least 110,000 establishments closing permanently or long term. With effects that severe, restaurant industry trends will have to shift for businesses to stay open.
The food services sector has already gone through several substantial changes amid the pandemic. It won’t go back to the way it was when COVID-19 fades, though, at least not at first. Restaurants will need to recover quickly to make up for pandemic losses, and that will require some adjustments.
Here are five ways to help mitigate COVID’s impact on restaurants and drive growth post-pandemic.
Capitalize on Digital Tools
One of the most significant restaurant industry trends COVID accelerated is digitization. Establishments quickly realized that they needed to embrace digital technology to survive the pandemic, and this will continue post-COVID. Capitalizing on tools like online ordering and reservations will help restaurants become more efficient and profitable.
The shift toward digitization started before the pandemic, with online ordering rising 300% between 2014 and 2016. More establishments have begun to offer these services amid COVID-19, and consumers have come to expect them. Customers are accustomed to using websites and apps for ordering and making reservations now, and they won’t go back.
While these services gained popularity in the pandemic for their safety benefits, they’re convenient, too. The streamlined, accessible experience of ordering food or reserving a table online will draw customers in. It also appeals to the digital-native Gen Z, who make up a growing part of the market.
Take Advantage of Delivery
Another growing restaurant industry trend that will continue after the pandemic is delivery. Many consumers may still be wary about venturing into public after COVID fades. Apart from these lingering health concerns, delivery will help serve a broader, more diverse clientele and lead to increased sales.
Restaurants can take some steps to stand out amid other establishments offering delivery, too. Given growing digitization, restaurants should take orders over the web or in an app, not just over the phone. Since in-person events will occur more frequently post-pandemic, offering catering services is another smart move.
The more efficient an establishment’s delivery and catering services are, the more successful they’ll be. Teams should organize catering vans to access frequently used items quickly and remove seldom-used ones. Extensive preparation can also help improve response times, improving customer satisfaction.
Lean Into Social Media Marketing
COVID’s impact on restaurants affected the entire industry, so there will be lots of competition in post-pandemic recovery. Smaller establishments need to make the most of their marketing campaigns to get patrons back inside and make profits. Perhaps the most crucial type of marketing in the post-COVID world is social media.
During the pandemic, technology use soared, especially social media. Users are checking platforms like Instagram and Facebook more frequently, and these sites provide an ideal marketing space. If restaurants haven’t already established an engaging presence on social media, now is the time.
Social media marketing should go beyond running Facebook ads. These sites provide the perfect place for restaurants to engage with consumers, listen to their needs and pique their interests. Establishments can hold events, take polls and post interactive content to draw in new customers.
Streamline Menus at First
It may seem counterintuitive to say businesses should offer less to maximize sales. If restaurants try to do too much, though, they may have trouble maintaining profits. Streamlining menus helps focus on what’s most profitable, leading to a faster recovery.
Streamlining the menu will also help restaurants target more niche audiences. They can focus on a specific theme or style to stand out from the crowd. Customers looking for a unique experience amid the restaurant reopening surge will be happy to find something different.
As restaurants start to recover, they can expand their menu once again. Becoming more specialized may also help long-term growth.
Look for Newly Legal Revenue Streams
After the pandemic, some restaurants may have new opportunities to pull in extra revenue. For example, more than 30 states have enabled to-go alcohol sales amid the pandemic. While many of these loosening regulations are temporary, some groups are pushing for them to be permanent.
Many legal provisions will likely become permanent after officials realize how they benefit the economy. They provide restaurants with the opportunity to expand their offerings and make more profits. Food services that take advantage of these changing regulations can recover faster.
What these regulations will look like in each state and county will vary. Restaurants should keep an eye on relevant legislation to capitalize on any lingering changes.
COVID Is Threatening the Restaurant Industry but Won’t End It
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most significant challenges the restaurant industry has ever faced. As tough as it’s been, it won’t be the end of restaurants. If owners capitalize on these changing trends, they can survive and even thrive.
With vaccines rolling out, the end of the pandemic is seemingly in sight. Recovery won’t be easy, but restaurants can follow these tips to foster post-COVID growth.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.