There are no more frantic knives beating on the chopping boards, nor are there sizzling pots on the stove: the symphony of plates, people and chefs has given way to an unnerving quietness.
In the past few months, COVID restrictions have put a strain on the stability of many restaurants. Yet, thousands of restaurateurs during covid have rediscovered the attribute which makes this sector so adaptable – inventiveness.
From dine-in kits which help recreate the dine-out experience at home, to Zoom wine-tastings and cooking classes, the hospitality-sector has found the ingredients to sustain business when the restaurant doors remain shut. Here are some of the many ways our incredible sector has adapted to these unusual times.
Bring the Dine Out Experience in With Meal Kits
It may seem daunting – if not impossible – to create a restaurant-standard dish at home, but it turns out that Meal Kits are one of the best means of sparking and sustaining demand for restaurant-quality meals, and maintaining customer interest whilst making a profit. Many restaurateurs during covid implemented this service as soon as the first lockdown kicked off – with astonishing results.
Alexis Gauthier, chef and owner of Gauthier Soho, shared his surprise about the positive response he received from doing Meal Kits in a recent webinar: “When the first lockdown happened, I didn’t believe there was any demand from customers but also I didn’t think there was anything I could do, as it wasn’t my speciality.”
“I think people who have been to my restaurant, they remember a meal, their birthday party, a romantic dinner and now they’re home, but that dream is still in their mind.”
Diners haven’t forgotten about you, or the food you have to offer, so get creative and talk to your collaborators to find a unique way to deliver your dishes to the homes of your waiting customers.
Finding New Market Opportunities
As part of an industry which requires flexibility and the ability to adapt to change, restaurateurs are used to finding new and original ways to keep businesses up to date with current market trends. Operating during a pandemic is undoubtedly a challenge, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to rethink old strategies and engage with new customers. The margins for success were considerable for Larkin Cen, founder of the Bristol-based Woky Ko restaurant chain: he reported a 200% increase in delivery orders following the closures of his four restaurants.
Here are some actions you can take:
Tailor your menu for delivery and collections:
Consumer behaviour has drastically changed in 2020. More people than ever are shopping online, and 82% of them will continue to shop online even after the pandemic ends. If you’re looking for some tips, look at how restaurants like Big Easy inLondon or Izakaya in Bristol are taking advantage of the delivery trend.
Meal Kits & Menus:
Meal Kits are one example of how you can alter your menu, but there are other options too. From ready-made deli meals to be shared at home to food boxes crammed with your favourite seasonal treats (think cheese, wine and all of the good things) the possibilities to leverage this new buying trend are endless. Passo’s successful dine-at-home experience is a perfect example of how diners are looking to recreate date night at home.
Find new collaborations:
Going through a period of crisis is tough for everyone, especially for those fighting alone. Pair up with other restaurateurs to create fresh and original offers and cater to a new niche or audience. If no one comes to mind, why not network within your local area to connect with other restaurants and businesses to support one another. For inspiration take a look at the Bristol Food Union and what they’re doing in the South West. Watch ‘Road To Renewal Documentary’ For How Bristol Food Union Is Tackling Covid.
Identify new market opportunities and adapt to recent food trends:
Analyse how the market is changing and think about the new habits that people are developing when eating out or buying food. Understand how they’re buying process has transformed during covid to find out how you can meet their needs. There may be a renovated interest in locally sourced products, a rise in demand for home catering, or a business opportunity connected to your unique location.
Keep Appetites Up With Social Media
There has never been a better time for businesses to engage with customers. The new reality of working from home, and lockdown restrictions, have made people appreciate eating out even more. The best way to feed the dream? Use social media to remind people that their favourite meal is only a click away.
Remember – social media is a key factor that will influence your performance after the pandemic. For this reason, restaurateurs must keep the conversation going with customers:
- Show your audience what you’re up to – let them meet the team and see a glimpse behind the scenes
- Actively engage with them on social media with live cooking classes or virtual food and wine tastings.
- Set up a newsletter to reach out to loyal customers
- Make them feel safe, share the actions you are taking towards their security without compromising the experience
- Create a sense of urgency with a waitlist on your social media and restaurant software.
- Shout from the rooftops about delivery and collections!
Nothing says special occasion (or tier restrictions) like an al fresco meal. Although it may not be logistically possible for all restaurants, try and rethink the space of your restaurant to create an outdoor dining experience. This may mean using pavements and installing heaters, but it will also mean additional covers. Take a look at how London restaurants Robata and Vardo have harnessed the outdoor dining trend.
Know Your Customers
As any business owner knows, it’s not just about having the best offer, but about having the right product for the right customers. Everything we have mentioned is effective but it has to be directed towards the right people. Understanding your audience is essential in ensuring you’re not wasting time or money on strategies that may not work.
Identifying Your Target Audience
Identifying your target market is a necessary step in determining which group of customers wants or needs your product or service. Once you find your target you can segment it into smaller groups with different characteristics.
There are many categories to consider in the segmentation process; here are a few you could focus on.
- Demographic (e.g ethnicity, gender, culture)
- Geographic (e.g location, city, street)
- Psychographic (e.g lifestyle such as dietary choices)
- Behavioural (e.g buying preferences such as meal boxes, ready meals or takeaway)
Having a think about your target audience may be as simple as jotting down your thoughts on a piece of paper, using the tools provided by social media, or, even better, using the insights you already have thanks to the OpenTable restaurant software. Once you know your audience, you can tailor your offer to their needs – e.g by sending an email with details and offers for when you open.