Customers already wanted more convenience and digital connections from their restaurant experiences. A heightened focus on safety during the pandemic amplifies these demands.
COVID-19 has caused dramatic disruption in the restaurant world. Initially, it forced global shutdowns. Then, it propelled a wave of ad-hoc innovation. While many changes were a direct result of the pandemic, others emanated from trends that existed before the crisis began.
Some of the trends, like digital customer enablement and off-premises consumption of food, will likely accelerate this year and beyond. Others, such as touch-based kiosks or high-capacity dining rooms, may slow or even reverse. To understand how the pandemic has affected consumer behaviors and preferences—and how brands are responding—Deloitte’s Restaurant and Food Service Industry group conducted consumer surveys and interviews with restaurant executives. The surveys, one conducted in December 2019 and the other in June 2020, garnered 550 respondents each. (For detailed results, see the full report.)
Three key trends emerged that are shaping consumption patterns and can serve as guideposts for executives as they lead their businesses out of the crisis and create the restaurant of the future.
Since the pandemic began, restaurant customers have been ordering delivery and takeout at higher rates than before the pandemic, and 46% of consumers don’t expect their habits to return to pre-COVID-19 levels anytime soon, the survey found.
The suspension and restriction of on-premises dining has been a major factor causing customers to focus even more on convenience. Indeed, convenience is the top reason (cited by 62% of respondents) for patronizing restaurants. Customers want to get food on their terms—in the quickest and most efficient way possible—and they’re willing to pay for that ease. On average, respondents say a $4 delivery fee is fair. They are also willing to consider alternative delivery options, including picking up food from a centralized delivery hub or ordering uncooked prepared meals. For some consumers, the restaurant of the future may not resemble a restaurant at all.
Restaurants can respond with the following strategies:
Expand off-premises dining. Investing in technology and operations can improve the speed and convenience of off-premises dining. Some brands have reallocated dining room space for drive-through, delivery, and take-out orders, and others are experimenting with scanning technologies that recognize customers’ license plates to streamline payment processing.
Improve food preparation. Enhancements that maintain food freshness may provide a wider delivery radius and ultimately more business. These could include updated packaging, delivery-only menus, and algorithms that precisely time cooking to delivery pickup.
Take control of delivery. Some brands are shifting delivery away from third parties and back to restaurants to regain control of the ordering experience, marketing, and ownership of customer data. Others are using third parties to drive incremental sales while making delivery by the restaurant the preferred digital ordering method.
Frictionless Digital Experiences
Consumers are accustomed to interacting digitally with retail, banking, and other services—and they want the same experience with restaurants. According to the survey, 70% of consumers prefer to order digitally for off-premises food delivery; 58% prefer to order digitally from a quick-service restaurant; and 57% have a third-party delivery app on their phone. Regardless of their preferred method of digital ordering, consumers say they would pay an average of 14% more to use it.
Brands can give consumers the digital experiences they desire by considering the following tactics:
Upgrade their apps. A branded app must be reliable and easy to use. For the customer, it should permit “order anywhere” functionality. For the enterprise, the app and its functions should integrate with the existing customer relationship management system. Payment registration with a restaurant should make it possible for a guest to pay from within the branded app regardless of how the food is delivered or where it’s eaten.
Provide seamless experiences. Customers want a consistent, pervasive digital experience across all touchpoints—so delivery, drive-through, apps, and websites should all offer seamless interactions tailored with information the customer needs in the moment. For example, if a user selects “curbside pickup” from an app, the app could alert the customer that a curbside spot is available at an exact location in the parking lot when the customer arrives.
Use advanced technologies. Sensing technologies such as GPS, Bluetooth beacons, and near-field communications are all potential pathways for personalizing the customer experience. For example, geofencing can match certain menu offerings with physical locations. Sensing paired with blockchain can enhance supply chain visibility, reassuring customers that their ingredients are safely sourced and handled. Driverless cars and even drones could be used in the future to reduce costs, decrease delivery times, and limit contact.
In the age of COVID-19, providing safety isn’t enough—restaurants must also make safety measures consistently visible. Approximately 80% of survey respondents say they’d be more likely to patronize a restaurant if they knew what steps it was taking to enhance cleanliness, food safety, or guest safety. This puts a premium on communication and transparency.
Restaurants can respond by taking the following actions:
Demonstrate safety measures. Cleanliness activities can have a greater effect when they happen in front of guests—for example, wiping down a table as customers take their seats. Other visible safety measures include plexiglass shields, face shields or masks for kitchen workers, and gloves worn by all employees.
Focus on efficiency. Some brands are paring down their menus to streamline kitchen operations and supply chains for faster, safer service. Others are changing menus to accommodate the rise in family bundles and the decline in single-meal orders. Still others are shifting away from breakfast and back to core menu items.
Even before the pandemic, consumers were increasing their demands for convenience and digital engagement. Now, restaurants have an opportunity to establish a new standard in customer convenience, responsiveness, and safety that will pay off long after COVID-19 is over.
—by Jean Chick, principal and U.S. Restaurant & Food Service leader; Ken Duffy, senior manager; and Steven Seligsohn, senior consultant, all with Deloitte Consulting LLP