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El Pollo Loco Mother's Day Mural.jpg El Pollo Loco
A mural created as part of El Pollo Loco's #StrongLikeaMadre campaign.

Mother’s Day could be the comeback holiday for restaurants recovering from COVID-19

This Mother’s Day, multiple brands like Ocean Prime and Einstein Bros. are offering both to-go and on-premise dining experiences with hopes for high returns

While last year, Mother’s Day meals might have (mostly) come out of a takeout box or from the pantry, restaurants are hoping that this year, mom’s holiday will be a turnaround milestone in the age of COVID-19 economic recovery. According to OpenTable, Mother’s Day restaurant reservations are up 64% compared to 2019 and are nine times higher than last year. While many restaurants are still offering to-go boxes and DIY kits, interest in at-home experiences is waning as customers feel more comfortable venturing to restaurants.

“This year, demand has been fanatic,” Mitch Miller, vice president of 16-unit steakhouse Ocean Prime said. “It feels as close to a normal Mother’s Day as it could possibly be.”

Miller said that typically Mother’s Day is one of the busiest times of the year for Columbus, Ohio-based chain of steakhouses. This year, Ocean Prime is offering both an in-person special brunch menu and special dinner menu available for dine-in or takeout (with cocktails and popcorn to-go). While they’re predicting that customers will gravitate more toward seated reservations rather than takeout, Miller said he thinks the high demand amid continued dining room capacity restrictions might force some guests to do takeout instead.

“Ocean Prime is usually a destination or special occasion type of restaurant,” Miller said. “While a customer might not feel comfortable braving [going out to eat] during the week, for those special occasions, people are ready to get out of their homes.”

As dining room restrictions still vary from state to state, customer comfort levels and restaurant capacity capabilities could look very different. For 25-unit, craft beer bar and restaurant group Eureka, being headquartered in California —one of the last states to loosen up dining room restrictions at this stage in the pandemic —has created a slower march back to normal.

In a pre-pandemic world, Eurekea’s sales see a 25% increase on Mother’s Day weekend, even though Mother’s Day is not typically a big holiday for their restaurants. This year, they’re offering takeout options, in addition to a $30 in-house prix-fixe menu and special “Mommy’s on a Break” cocktail.

“I believe we’ll see at least 25% increase in dining this weekend, mainly because California just started loosening restrictions,” Erik Berman, president of Eureka Restaurant Group said. “We can have 100% patio seating but since we’re still limited with indoor dining, we’ll hold on to that takeout and third-party delivery business.”

Berman predicts that 10% of their business will be takeout and 15-20% will be third-party delivery on Sunday, with the rest of customers opting for dine-in.

While takeout kits and DIY meals may be waning for casual and fine-dining restaurants, for off-premise-centric brands like Einstein Bros. Bagels, these kits are still an opportunity to be creative on special occasions like Mother’s Day. Currently, Einstein Bros. Bagels is offering  brunch boxes and mimosa starter kit available in-store and through their app for Mother’s Day.

“The brunch box was born out of a pandemic need,” Teka O’Rourke, vice president of marketing with Einstein Bros. Bagel said. “Last Mother’s Day they were hugely successful and this year, we think it’s exactly what our guest is looking for.”

The brunch boxes are a plussed version of their original bagel boxes, complete with egg sandwiches and baked goods. For Mother’s Day, Einstein Bros. is expecting strong sales.

“Holidays throughout the pandemic actually were very strong for us, relatively speaking,” O’Rourke said. “[..] Moving forward, there’s something to be said for family time and nice intimate meals with family at home. I don’t see that going away.”

The pandemic also inspired non-commercial celebrations of Mother’s Day: Although Costa Mesa, Calif.-based El Pollo Loco is not doing any Mother’s Day specials, they’re honoring moms with the #StrongLikeAMadre grant initiative, which will award 12 mothers with a $5,000 grant. Three types of mothers will be honored: those who want to chase their ambitions, relaunch their careers after putting them on hold during the pandemic, or simply get some rest and relaxation after a challenging year. The contest launched on April 27 and runs through May 14.

“This program was not developed for commercial purposes and was not intended to drive sales,” Bernard Acoca, CEO of El Pollo Loco said. “We do a lot of programs throughout that year that are reflective of our responsibilities to the community […] In our hometown of Los Angeles, the pandemic has wreaked so much havoc on peoples’ lives and set so many people back, particularly moms. Moms and in particular, women of color, have been disproportionately impacted. We wanted to offer a hand of assistance.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi


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