The majority of people are aware of the challenges and hardships the restaurant industry faced over the last year. Many were negatively impacted as restaurants shuttered and were forced to temporarily halt in-person dining services or permanently close their doors for good. Alternatively, many businesses discovered opportunities to thrive and grow revenue exponentially, pivoting in momentous ways to meet their clients and consumers.
For many other industries, taking a hit this hard, long, and unpredictable could very well bring irreparable damage indefinitely, but to know the foodservice industry is to know its unwavering resiliency. The people it employs are more than peers, they are family – and they know how to jump back stronger and smarter than before.
So as restaurateurs look for innovative strategies for a successful return to business, we are highlighting three notable areas to consider to better understand how small moves can create big changes to let your brand thrive for years to come.
Welcome the guest back, but better.
Restaurants across the country have been through a lot, and the customers have too. Going out to eat is more than what is on the menu.
It is the anticipation of a night out.
It is how a guest is met at the door.
And most importantly, how it feels to be taken care of.
Putting yourselves in the mind of the consumer helps owners and operators decide what small moves will help welcome people back.
For people who haven’t dined out regularly (or at all) during the last year, returning to an old favorite place with a new staff, menu, and seating arrangements could prove unsettling to the regulars making their first trip back, mainly because there is often an unspoken comfort in something known and familiar. Loyal restaurant regulars often revel in the sense of belonging they feel when they enter their space, almost as if they feel a sense of pride in protecting this haven from changing without notice.
On the other hand, others might return to their favorite restaurant and question why everything, including the menu, looks and feels like it hasn’t changed since they last left it, aside from fewer tables throughout the space and only a QR code provided for accessing the menu.
Balancing the blend between old and new and appropriately scaling comfort with adventure to truly understand the customer journey may very well be the key for successful restauranteurs reopening and revisioning the dining experience. Ensure that your brand, your physical space, and the way that your staff welcomes people back all feel intentional, consistent, fresh, and yet nostalgic simultaneously.
Celebrate your chef’s curiosity.
It is natural for those of us familiar with the makeup of a great restaurant experience to put ourselves in the place of the diner or customer, but it is equally imperative for restaurant leaders to look inward to better understand the mindset of the operators - restauranteurs, chefs, and the staff.
Chefs are naturally creative and passionate, and although they may work in the medium of food, they are more so driven by the desire to create and to entertain – because for them the food is just one part of the experience. They are both anxious and excited to get back to work and share their passions with their extended family of patrons they’ve missed so dearly.
Though the past year has been stressful and uncertain, it has also been a time to reflect, learn, and gain inspiration to innovate. Our restaurant clients are some of the most inspired (and inspiring!) that we have had the opportunity to work with during this time. Some chefs/chef-owners have updated their menu in ways they had never thought of before, while some explored a new approach to food altogether.
With evolving food selections and innovations, it only makes sense to have the physical space, branding, uniforms, and dinnerware follow suit, sparing no detail in this once-in-a-lifetime rebirth. It is a time to celebrate and showcase the new ideas that have been incubating ferociously over the year.
Extend your innovations fearlessly.
Many restaurants throughout the pandemic found themselves exploring unchartered territories, introducing unique, never before seen foodservice innovations, creating and testing experiences and tech-driven services out of the norm for much of the industry that proves validity for implementation in the future.
While many New Englanders experienced the difficulties of trying outdoor dining in December in Boston, it provided a sense of adventure for those who headed out in their full-length parkas and snow boots in search of a restaurant that had gained notoriety for nailing outdoor heating solutions. The number of towns offering and enhancing parklets and sidewalks for summer dining experiences is a pandemic-era revelation for all local New England restaurants. There is limitless potential as restauranteurs find ways to keep their locations comfortable, safe, and well-functioning for the customers and staff.
Alternatively, many brands met customers in the virtual world with real take-out options and customized events to experience in the comfort of our homes. Parents everywhere rejoiced as they embraced high-quality take-out cuisine without having to pay for a babysitter. It feels like a long-awaited idea whose time has finally come.
Understanding how to adapt your infrastructure to offer both in-person and take-out dining opens resilient revenue streams for the future. Infusing a strong brand through modified menus, packaging, and food delivery ensures your customers get a complimentary dining experience on their own terms.
Many enjoyed having more intimate one on one interactions with some of their favorite restauranteurs. Following favorite chefs in new environments that offer first-hand access to top-notch talents like Joanne Chang or Christina Tosi has become part of the fun that customers won’t want to lose as they go back outside.
For those of us who work with restaurants collaboratively, many discovered the resiliency of their restaurant partners to be inspiring and uplifting beyond measure – standing the test of time no matter the weather they face.
This evolution warrants every restauranteur the opportunity to take a deeper look at their brand story, visuals, customer experience, and ultimately the space itself. To find a new harmony within your reemerging team, use this time for creative reevaluation and refresh your strategic planning for the next chapter of your brand’s journey. Be mindful of your end user’s expectations and needs, while staying authentically loyal to your brand and the people who help make it so special.
Small adjustments, when made in a thoughtful way, make a big difference for all.