June 18, 2020

Food for thought; reimagining the restaurant experience

Food for thought; reimagining the restaurant experience.

We gourmands have been starving for the chance to dress up and go to a restaurant during these past two months of pandemic lockdown. Thankfully, that’s about to change this weekend, as the first of Canada’s in-dining services return in some provinces.

Change is the operative word. Successful restaurants will be those that add true meaning to their customers’ lives, offering an experience that keeps people coming back for more.

The challenge now that the revenue per square foot model has been disrupted is in how brands differentiate themselves beyond location and atmosphere. That may sound like a no-win proposition, but our research shows otherwise.

Our insights in Opening Back Up – What Restaurants Need to Know, are based on surveying 604 people who typically ate out once or twice a week, pre-pandemic. A full 54 per cent indicated they did so because they wanted to escape the house. Give people another escape, beyond the bricks and mortar of the restaurant, and they will keep coming back.

Only 11 per cent said they dine out to be waited on, which is one of the few motivations that can’t easily be replicated outside a restaurant, short of sending a server home with the takeout. (There’s an idea?)

As we enter these proverbial Different Times to write the recipe on the industry’s After Times here are my food-for-thoughts.

BYOFF -Bring Your Own Family and Friends

The easiest and fastest way for restaurants to reconfigure their space while maximizing revenue is to create private dining rooms with big tables, and offer strong incentives to encourage larger gatherings. Social distancing rules don’t apply for people in your bubble. Expect in the short-term to see creative promotions that encourage you to grab a few friends and takeover your own partitioned space in the restaurant.

Takeout Takeaway

Takeout is here to stay. People’s attitudes have indeed changed in a trend that began before but was accelerated by the pandemic. Some 37 per cent of respondents said they will continue to order more takeout after the lockdown than they did before. This will continue as more creative takeout services emerge, such as Cactus Club’s do-it-yourself cocktail kits and Hy’s home steak dinners and family meal kits. Success here starts by gaining a deeper understanding of individual restaurants’ target market and catering to those specific needs.

More delivery options should also emerge, given the recent outcry over the crazy cuts third-party delivery services take from restaurants on these orders.

Expect more creative menus that package new experiences with added incentives, such as a romantic dinner-for-two picnic hamper with candles and wine. Or, perhaps a Sunday brunch kit for six? Why not a takeout dinner for tonight with do-it-yourself leftover lunches for tomorrow? You get the idea.

Timed Dining or Fine Dining?

It’s unlikely you will be paying by the minute like a parking meter, but it stands to reason that with 50 per cent fewer seats due to accommodating social distancing, access to the remaining tables will become a much hotter commodity.

Perhaps we will pay a premium for certain time slots, or even more to stay and linger? Alternatively, will we get a discount if we dine and dash? Uber’s surge pricing model comes to mind, which matches prices to the supply of drivers at any given time. Restaurants could match prices to supply of tables, charging more for people wanting to eat at peak times than during off times.

For some people, it will be worth the price. For others, they will wait in line.

Pop Up Parties?

Speaking of waiting in (socially-distanced) lines. . . . This gives the restaurant industry a new opportunity to enhance the user experience in surprising and delightful ways, taking what is potentially a deal-breaker and turning it into its own thing. Lines could become branded experiences similar to speakeasys or pop-up-parties. Why not?

Dining out will be different starting this weekend, but not gone. Let’s see what some of the country’s most creative people deliver for a reimagined dining experience that feeds all the basics of entertaining, connecting, trying new foods and socializing with family and friends.

Sheenah Rogers-Pfeiffer, Founder & Chief Strategist

Click the link below for Dr. Mark Szabo's research presentation.

Click here