One of the big trends restaurants must face this year is the changing behavior of consumers across America, namely: eating more at home.
It’s one thing to competitively market your restaurant to potential guests who are still trying to decide where to go for dinner. This is something restaurants are now used to doing. But what about those consumers who don’t want to go out at all? We’re seeing Americans eating more meals at home with some — but not all — shopping more at grocery stores and cooking at home. After all, there’s evidence that consumers aren’t necessarily buying more groceries, either.
So why exactly are more Americans eating at home now? And what can you do to capture that demographic?
The Rise of the Meal Kits
Home delivery meal kits have been the hot new thing for foodies in the last few years. Companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh offer everything customers need for several meals a week — from the produce to the proteins to the special ingredients (and the recipes, of course). And the meal kit is sent in properly chilled packaging right to their doorsteps. This has disrupted grocery store purchasing, but it can also affect restaurants. After all, when the consumer has already paid for the ingredients for multiple home-made meals, they’re less likely to dine out spontaneously.
These subscription services are really appealing for busy people looking to cook more but who don’t have a lot of time for the grocery store. They offer home cooks ways to try working with new flavors and cuisines without having to go searching for specialty ingredients themselves. Plus, it just feels special to have custom designed meal plans, and it makes cooking feel like a fun activity the whole family can participate in.
There are a few ways for restaurants to tap into the appeal of meal plans. Consider putting together options for sides that customers can pick up and easily cook at home. The Papa Murphy’s chain (which offers ready-made uncooked pizzas that customers take home to finish in the oven) has an entire concept around this, so think that but for your menu items. This is very popular for restaurant to offer during Thanksgiving, but it can be used during other parts of the year as long as you can make the prep for these orders as easy as possible for your kitchen staff.
And what about starting personal cooking classes? This can help attract those meal kit users who want to learn how to make special food, and what better way than learning from your chef? These kinds of classes are not only a money maker, they help local foodies get to know your menu and the vibe of your restaurant.
It’s also worth noting that Blue Apron’s growth has stumbled the past year, so tapping into what customers like about it might not mean recreating their methods beat for beat. It might be just the case of offering fresher, health-focused — but still delicious — items on your menus. Providing delivery with healthier options that integrate ingredients they’re learning to love in meal kits (Swiss chard, farro, sweet cubanelle peppers, etc) can entice them to order from you.
More Consumers Working from Home
Changes in where consumers work has been a major factor for restaurants in metropolitan areas. After all, many restaurants (especially lunch places) thrive on nearby office workers making their way to eat during their lunch breaks. As more and more people do freelance work or telecommute from home, there’s less incentive for them to go out for lunch.
The same thing goes for breakfast: consumers who would usually stop by their favorite fast casual restaurant for a coffee and breakfast sandwich on the way to work aren’t as likely to do so if they work from home. Likewise, some office workers will stop in a local establishment on their commute home to have a drink, snack, or even eat dinner, but that isn’t as convenient for telecommuters.
This is where delivery can make a huge difference. These consumers still want convenient eating options, especially when they’re working. If walking to your restaurant is no longer convenient, then delivery can become a selling point to at-home workers. Just make sure you’re clear about your open hours and that you’re advertising your delivery options online where customers will see them.
Beyond Working from Home
You should also start thinking of your day-to-day customers beyond those active in the workforce. Think about stay at home parents (especially of newborns), chronically ill consumers, and housebound or not fully abled consumers. For these consumers, it’s even more difficult to go out to eat, but it could also be very difficult for them to quickly grab groceries.
These consumers are really looking at convenience as a necessity, which means you need to make it an easy choice to order from you.
Beyond advertising your delivery options, also consider partnering with Uber Eats or another similar program. A lot of housebound consumers use those options to make acquiring food a lot easier. Beyond that, make sure you offer menu items that can easily travel short distances. People want to know the food they’re ordering to eat at home will taste just as good by the time it reaches their doorstep.
And think about marketing more directly to certain at-home demographics, like Dominos Pizza did recently with their baby registry. How wild you go with this kind of promotion really depends on your customer, the size of your business, and what you can confidently pull off, but brainstorming ideas for this kind of marketing can be a game changer.
Barbeques, Get-togethers, and Special Events
It’s not just the day-to-day meals that consumers are spending at home. They’re also planning special occasions and get togethers in their home, too. Sometimes that can mean a family dinner during the holidays instead of making group reservations. Sometimes it can mean investing in a grill and having barbeques at home during the summer. What it comes down to is less large parties in your restaurant, and those are big money makers.
For these consumers, it’s really about making your group dining extra special. Boost up your special occasion and larger group options. It might be months and months away, but this is actually a great time to start planning your ideas for outdoor dining during the warmer weather. If you have a patio, start looking into restyling it or rearranging the table flow. Start thinking about potential grilling specials you can use to entice people out.
But on top of that, consider leaning in to people having parties at home. Catering is always an option, but as mentioned earlier, you can also offer take-home sides that customers just put in the oven to finish. Think outside the box for items you can offer customers that will enhance their next at-home get-together.
Want more ideas to accentuate your menu and drive more profit this year? Download our free eBook “Restaurant Trends in 2018” today!