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‘You’ve changed!’ Why that’s a good thing for your brand.

It would be bold to say that 2021 will be a “normal” year for restaurants, but there is a clear path back to normality as COVID-19 cases ebb nationwide. At the same time, Congress has apportioned $28.6 billion in direct aid to restaurants as part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package. Additionally, at the state level, governments are starting to reopen their economies, with rollbacks in capacity limits for restaurants and — with the return of warmer weather — more outdoor dining in the months ahead, too.

While things are still in flux, we can safely say that there are many aspects of the food retail business that have changed for the better. That makes this a good time to examine which of the many dining protocols instituted during the pandemic are here to stay, while pinpointing the biggest trends that will influence the restaurant business in the year to come.

Restaurant design

Restaurant dynamics changed dramatically over the past year, bringing changes to interior and exterior restaurant design. Big QSR brands like McDonald’s, which had already built drive-through capabilities into their buildings, were well-positioned to deliver a safe, contactless, takeout experience. Consequently, business grew throughout the pandemic overall for these brands.

Big pizza brands, such as Domino’s and Papa John’s were also prepared for the pandemic’s business conditions as they were able to rapidly ramp-up their online and mobile ordering capabilities to efficiently and safely fulfill customers needs. Like McDonald’s, these big pizza brands saw their revenue grow in 2020.

Likewise, the concept of the digital restaurant gained a lot of traction over the last year or more, with brands both big and small turning to so-called “ghost kitchens” to better meet the needs of the takeout and delivery customer. Some of the exampless taking root across the fast food landscape came from brands like Smokey Bones’ dual concepts of The Wing Experience and The Burger Experience, as well as more recently Nathan’s Famous push to populate the ghost kitchen playing field. All these concepts provide a more flexible model for the parent brands that can be rolled out in areas that perhaps were previously unable to support a full-sized dine-in restaurant.

Customer experience

Guests have come to appreciate both the safety of contactless transactions and the convenience of takeout. Restaurants that already embraced online ordering, mobile apps and QR codes before the pandemic were ready to deliver this experience when those platforms became a necessity. Those that did not are investing in technology and processes that will enable them to deliver a contactless experience to their guests.

They are adopting new technologies, such as QR menu codes and electronic payment via Apple Pay or Google Pay, helping to reduce the touchpoints between staff and customers. While larger brands may have the resources to make these technological investments, smaller restaurants can often take advantage of monies offered through federal pandemic relief programs, of which approximately 20% has been designated for restaurants that had sales less than $500,000 in 2019.

Likewise, restaurants have and continue to introduce curbside pickup and/or home delivery by either using their own employees for such services or relying on third-party delivery app services. In fact, Domino’s order and delivery service promises that finished pizzas will be free from human contact from the time the pies go into the oven to the moment the customer opens the box.

 


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Safety transparency for staff, food

The pandemic has also heightened guest expectations for food safety. Customers increasingly want to know how restaurants are storing and cooking their food, and brands are responding by publishing their policies online.

For instance, Domino’s has a full web page, “Safety Is Domino’s #1 Priority” interface, where the brand publishes its safety policies for staff, including sanitizing, hand-washing and food-handling policies. Internal staff are required to regularly clean food prep areas, door handles, hot delivery bags and counters. They also must wash their hands regularly. For delivery orders, all personnel must wear gloves, masks, and wash their hands before and after each contact.

Guests now also want to know restaurants treat food before they submit their orders. In this pursuit, automated temperature sensors can be a huge help in ensuring that restaurants are in compliance and that temperature logs are updated on a regular basis. Automation also helps here by guaranteeing records around these practices are current and fully accessible to health inspectors and restaurant staff.

So, yes, dining and restaurant trends have changed dramatically over the past year as we’ve seen in restaurant design, customer experience and safety transparency modifications. Still, these changes should be welcomed since they have and will continue to help improve the overall dining experience, a process that continues for years to come.

 


 

Copyright Networld Media Group DBA Networld Alliance, LLC May 25, 2021

This article was written by Charlie Piper from QSR Web. News Features and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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