Are restaurants ready for what comes next?
The morning rush looks different now. So do our diets, as we rethink our meal, food and nutrition choices. The International Food Information Council says that more than four out of five of us have changed food habits during the pandemic. Food service companies are responding to these changes with new service levels, offerings and formats.
Changes to daily routines, like the morning commute, mean we cook, eat, shop and think differently about food, especially breakfast. We’re shifting from meals to snacks and rethinking when we eat. Brunch has become a big(ger) business. Restaurants have added more — and more interesting — breakfast items to menus and serve them throughout the day. Many places, including traditional a.m. stops like coffee shops, offer to-go kits filled with pastries, fruit and savory dishes as well as easy-to-eat items like breakfast sandwiches and burritos. They make getting a coffee a special treat and offer creative to-go cocktail kits.
We are what we eat
Diets are bifurcating to either support immunity or provide comfort. Restaurants and retailers have a chance to offer consumers options that are healthy, healthyish or not. They can make it easy for shoppers to find natural, clean labels and ingredients. Some are partnering with local chefs, purveyors and artisans to support the local food ecosystem and feature limited-time offers at a variety of price points and calorie levels. This gives consumers a break from cooking, access to seasonal ingredients and the option to try new items any time of day.
Tech is on the menu
The how and where of getting our food has changed, and new behaviors, such as online ordering, meal kit subscriptions and outdoor dining, will continue. Operators can optimize their physical footprint — or create new formats — with smaller indoor dining areas, more outdoor space, a second drive-thru dedicated to online order pick-up, kiosks for areas where drive-thru doesn’t make sense and new walk-up concepts adjacent to full-service units that offer a subset of the menu. All these options are designed to serve guests, ensure safety, speed digital ordering and improve experience, especially during times when extra quick service is demanded.
The relationships Americans have with food has changed during the pandemic. Many restaurants and foodservice providers have fallen by the wayside. Survivors, by and large, have adapted to this new reality. What will it take to keep up with what’s coming next? That is now and has always been the question.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think restaurants and other foodservice providers have adapted well to changes brought about as a result of the pandemic? What products, services, technology or other developments do you think will influence consumers’ use of these businesses in the next several years?