As we turn the corner on the most destructive year for restaurants in a century, those that survived are looking hopefully toward strong rebounds in traffic and revenue in 2021. With coronavirus vaccines being distributed across the country, there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. But considering the vaccination process will run at least until summer, restaurants still face one if not two or three more quarters of limited in-restaurant dining and certainly off-peak revenue.
Last year, whether it was QSR, casual dining, pizza, or some other kind of restaurant, the ones that endured the pandemic were adaptive, nimble, and inventive, pivoting quickly from shutdown to whatever they could do to survive. Those that successfully navigate 2021 will have to continue leaning on those practices. But after 20 years helping more than 20 restaurant chains and franchisee groups build and promote their brands, we know it takes more than great advertising and marketing to really move the needle. We believe there are seven other key things that will help restaurants not just survive but thrive in 2021.
Focus on experience.
In 2020, hungry consumers didn’t shift to drive-thru, curbside pickup and delivery because they wanted to. If they wanted food from their favorite restaurants, those were the only choices they had. Diners crave the in-restaurant experience. It’s a huge part of why we eat in restaurants and it’s something we are all desperately missing. That’s why now is the ideal time to focus on and perfect your dining experience.
Now — while old customers are still coming back and before new ones find you for the first time — spend some time looking at every aspect of your dining experience and improve any areas that could be better. If you’re a QSR, what does your dining room look like? Is it old and beaten up, or sharp and impressive? Is it clean? What about the bathrooms? What’s the interaction like between your frontline staff and the customer? How efficient is the drive-thru?
If you’re a restaurant, what’s the drive-up experience like at night and during the day? What is your greeting and seating sequence like? Interaction with the waitstaff? The bathrooms? The menus? The music and spacing and lighting and décor that set the tone for a $30, $50, or $100 night out? These are all things that inform the experience side of dining out. They’re also the reasons why, pre-COVID, the majority of your business wasn’t “to-go.” People want the experience only you can provide.