Although the current coronavirus pandemic has most definitely forged a new framework of expectations for restaurants, consumers still (and always will) want to enjoy dining experiences that cater to their specific needs and wants. Regardless of the times and type of service — on-premise dining, takeout, or delivery — it’s important for restaurant owners to carefully monitor and evaluate emerging industry trends to ensure that their restaurant is catering to customers’ ever-changing preferences. When shifting your protocols and business model to adapt to new guest needs and safety standards spurred by COVID-19, make sure that your brand stays fully intact and recognizable to your consumer base. Simply put, try to think as you always have: how can I provide guests with the culinary and ambiance experience they crave?
Trends vs. trendy
By subscribing to industry newsletters and blogs you will receive a snapshot of the latest trends on a regular basis. While evaluating this information, try to differentiate between a global, industry-wide “trend” and something that is simply “trending” or “trendy” right now. For example, plant-based eating is becoming a solidified trend in the restaurant sphere, but jackfruit may only be a trendy/trending ingredient. So, while it’d be a hasty decision to completely revamp your menu to feature multiple jackfruit dishes, you may want to consider adding a couple vegetarian and vegan options to your menu to tap into this customer base. Pay particular attention to foods, beverages, and ingredients that keep popping up in different industry outlets and reports—this may be a rising trend worth keeping on your radar.
Adjust to the times
It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges and hurdles for the restaurant industry. It’s a smart idea to take stock of what new initiatives have worked well for neighboring restaurants as this can generate ideas that may help your own business weather the storm. During these trying times consumers are extra mindful of how businesses are adhering to the appropriate safety and health guidelines. It’s important to communicate your health/safety efforts clearly and often on your website, flyers, social media pages, etc. This may include guest and staff safety requirements, protocols for takeout/delivery orders, updated business hours, new digital menus, and more.
Many restaurants have seen success in ramping up their takeout/delivery business as well as curbside pickup and contactless deliveries to generate additional revenue streams as on-premise dining becomes limited in some areas. Tying special discounts and promotions to takeout/delivery is a savvy way to increase these order types, rather than relying solely on dine-in customers. Another trend that’s become more apparent since the onslaught of COVID-19 is restaurants offering take-home meal kits. This can include make-your-own pizzas, cocktail kits, taco night ingredients, and more. When creating your restaurant’s take-home meal kit, play to your most popular menu items that you know are easy to make at home and will travel well. Don’t be afraid to test out-of-the-box strategies and initiatives to encourage customers to patronize your restaurant during these unpredictable times.
Be true to your brand
Once you discover a few trends that you may want to implement, take the time to measure them against your brand. It’s not a good idea to allow fads to completely alter the aesthetic and soul of your restaurant. Evaluate which trends complement your brand’s current mission and value propositions. For instance, if you hang your hat on off-the-wall colorful cocktails, then latching onto the foreign spirit fad—think Cachaça from Brazil and amaro from Italy—may seamlessly integrate into your already daring bar menu. Forcing incongruent menu items on your diners simply because they’re all the rage right now can make your brand appear pandering or even cliché to some guests.
Let data drive your decisions
When in doubt, consult the numbers. This can apply to uncovering the trends themselves as well as how and when to add them to your menu. If there is an industry trend you are considering incorporating, you should first evaluate how these items are performing at your competitors. Check online customer reviews for anecdotal findings as well as hard numbers on sales, reservations, etc. if available. Also, focus not only on this year’s trends, but the performance of past food fads. This will allow you to see the ebb and flow of widespread trends vs. trendy ingredients and foods across the restaurant industry as a whole.
After narrowing down what trends you’d like to bring into your restaurant, use the reports available in your POS system to determine which will likely appeal to the largest percentage of your guests. Your system’s data can also showcase when and how to optimally roll out these new menu items. For example, if your reports show that appetizer sales consistently surge during happy hour Monday through Thursday, then consider introducing this new trend-inspired dish as an appetizer rather than an entrée—setting it up for success from the get-go. And in this time, it is important to pay attention to the success of your to-go orders, since that is a bigger piece of the revenue mix going forward, and certain foods travel better than others.
Don’t get trapped by trends
It’s important to keep in mind that your restaurant and brand can’t be everything to everyone at all times. Like with any business decision, there will be people that respond favorably and those that don’t appreciate the changing tides. Don’t allow your establishment to be beholden to trends at each turn, but rather use these industry shifts as a roadmap for implementing strategic detours in your own restaurant’s plan. The goal is to remain relevant in order to capture new revenue streams, while also being true to the awesomeness that you built into your brand.
To discover more restaurant marketing strategies and tactics that can help your business during COVID-19, take a look at our free e-tool, “Coronavirus era: 13 restaurant marketing tips.”