1. Lean into at-home.
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As of the week ended Sept. 20, nationally just 46% of people were working outside the home compared to pre-pandemic, NPD found. It’s a reminder that not all consumers are having the same experience, and there is income bifurcation. With working and schooling continuing to happen largely at home, operators will need to be more relevant to consumers’ very different needs. “We have to lean into where consumers are, find ways to be relevant inside the home,” said Portalatin.
2. Pump up variety.
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When consumers turn to restaurants it is first and foremost for the food. While focusing on limited or streamlined menus out of practicality has been a good strategy, going forward operators will need to mix things up. “You’re going to see a consumer who is seeking out variety,” said Portalatin. “[Operators have] got to keep innovation pipeline fresh, remember to keep it new and exciting.”
3. Transcend the food
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It turns out that, even in these pandemic times, it’s not all about the food. Though consumers will always crave new cuisines, flavors, and items that only foodservice professionals can make, providing a unique experience — be it on-premise or off — still matters. “Restaurant operators need to be prepared to provide that differentiated experience in whatever pandemic measures are in place,” said Portalatin. “Consumers have missed it.”
4. Drive digital visits.
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With 76% of all delivery orders placed digitally, digital adoption has changed the face of delivery — and it is expected to continue to grow. While digital has been key these past months for offering contactless procedures and frictionless ordering, it also offers a platform to meet consumers’ growing need for food variety, food exploration, healthy options and treating themselves. “[Use digital to] raise awareness of the things you have for consumers as well,” said Portalatin. “We can be better at suggestive selling, new menu innovation.”
5. Go to consumers.
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There are still going to be consumers who aren’t ready or able to dine on-premise for some time. If they won’t come to restaurants, operators will have to find a way to bring their brand to them. Portalatin suggests operators look for opportunities to offer menu items that complete an at-home meal or that can be blended with foods prepared at home, or consider offering moveable foodservice. “We’re seeing pop-up restaurants, food trucks,” said Portalatin. “It’s difficult to measure, but it’s out there.”