In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, restaurants are in a position in which they have never been before. After weeks of stay-at-home orders and takeout only, dine-in is finally back.

Levels of concern from consumers begin to ease at a steady pace but safety is still a top priority. Current events have shifted consumer trends to a new way of dining. Is your restaurant prepared to handle them?

To help you out, we’ve identified how consumer trends are being managed by restaurants. Use this information to help you in your reopening phase and daily operations. Knowing this information now will help you take control and give guests what they want.

Here are tactics restaurants are using to handle new consumer trends:

It’s Best Upon Request

Data shows that customers prefer many dining essentials upon request only. This is to help keep items in safe places and handled less by other diners. Datassential reports that 57% of consumers prefer condiments only when asked for. This is even more likely among Boomers at 68%. This includes any sauces and beverage condiments such as sugar packets.

Customers are also concerned about how their beverages are being handled. Because people are particular about their coffee, customers want to handle it themselves. 42% of consumers want to add creamers and sugars on their own while 23% want it added by staff. For millennials, this jumps up to 30%. More surprising statistics come about upon how restaurants should handle garnishes on drinks. Findings include that 46% of diners want them upon request only and 29% say skip fruit entirely.

Pre-COVID, restaurant staff wouldn’t think twice about these actions. But, now is the time to get things right from the beginning. The change is worth it to ensure safety to your guests.

Makeshift Outdoor Dining

Due to social distancing, off-premise dining has now taken a new meaning. Once inside dining rooms are now being taken to the streets. Businesses are creating makeshift patios on their sidewalk and parking lots. We want to highlight this because it’s been a hit for consumers.

Outdoor dining has allowed places to reopen safely and with maximum physical distancing. Some city governors have even urged restaurants to expand outdoor seating. It’s better for your staff and guests to be in open-air outside dining. Also, by expanding your square footage, you can operate more at your full capacity.

Still unsure if this is for you? Market research firm, 1Q, found that 77% of consumers feel very or somewhat safe in outdoor dining. Compare this to the 44% that said the same about dining indoors. Outdoor seating is the element that is making dining feel safe again. This is a step in the right direction and allows us to reintroduce dining to our guests. Check with your local guidelines and get a permit today.

Virtual Wait Lines & Menus

Is your restaurant on a first come first serve basis only or do you accept reservations? As you open your doors once again, it’s important to find a system that works and is tailored to you.

When consumers are ready to dine in, they don’t want to deal with the wait. Your guests want to be able to “get in line” virtually. This includes accepting call-ins and online reservations. It’s important to have a system that provides accurate wait times. This way your guests show up right when the table is ready. Not only will this help reduce contact, but it will also provide better service.

Virtual menus have also become highly popular among consumers and restaurants. As you want to avoid sharing items, virtual menus are already in your guests’ hands. Quick response (QR) codes can be scanned directly off your guest’s phone and a menu can appear. This creates a contactless experience and helps save paper compared to disposable menus. 

Virtual menus can help out any kind of restaurant, but more specifically full service. Fine dining and fast-casual places can benefit from this. While at the table, your guests can browse the menu by phone and reduce contact with each other. Quick service restaurants are also taking advantage of this as well as digital menus.

Behaviors Towards Takeout

Though guests are able to dine in again, many are still ordering ahead. In Datassential’s most recent data, the percentage of consumers dining in only went from 8% to 9%. A 1% increase across the span of a little over 2 months proves that takeout is still at an all-time high. Take a look at the takeout rates for example:

  • Order ahead 24%
  • To-go 17%
  • Drive-thru 27%
  • Delivery 23%

Takeout and delivery are perceived as the least risky foodservice options for consumers. Because of this, you should continue your ordering ahead options.

Something to consider is including specials that are takeout exclusives. Off-premise was the key to survival for a long period of time and it’s not stopping soon. Stay on top of this trend to help your guests feel safe and listened to.

Additionally, consumers prefer ordering straight from the restaurant. Also, note that lower delivery fees and full menu access would drive more people to order directly. They want contactless delivery to continue until they feel entirely safe.

Learn how to handle both in-store dining while fulfilling online orders here.

Preparation is key

Knowing what your guests need and expect from you is the first step. Given the ability to quickly adapt to situations will help you be on top of these trends. Furthermore, you need to figure out how to manage new social distancing guidelines. The operational changes above compliment these and your guests will appreciate it. 

Give your customers pickup and contactless delivery options with our Online Ordering system. We can help you increase your revenue and get back on track. With Guest Manager, you can also enhance your waitlist management. Our system will allow your guests to get in line online on their own time.

Adjusting to these changes is not easy, and it will take time. The impact that COVID-19 had on restaurants put everybody in a tough position. Recovering will be hard work but use this insight to help get through it.