The restaurant industry has changed significantly in recent years, not least due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Globally, restaurants saw a notable shift in customer expectations and behavior during this time. For lengthy periods over the course of two years, businesses were forced to operate solely on a take-out and delivery basis, and it soon became evident that everybody would need to up their game. From early 2021, eating out at our favorite restaurants became a thing of the past and with many people staying at home and working remotely, there was a surge in demand for food delivery services, as well as a need for faster and more personalized food options.
According to a study from McKinsey & Company, 60 percent of US consumers now spend more each month on food delivery than they did before the pandemic. 11% of Americans spend between $100 and $149 more each month, while 22 percent spend an additional $50 to $99, on average. Interestingly, 55 percent of consumers now consider takeout and delivery essential, according to NRA's 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry Report.
But with the growth in off-premise dining comes extra pressure for businesses. Consumers ordering deliveries still want to make sure it feels like they are treating themselves. As well as getting the same great food, they want to ensure they are being looked after in the manner in which they had previously been accustomed. As a result of the change in dining habits, consumer expectations have actually increased post-COVID, and for each and every restaurant that wants to survive, it is crucial that those expectations are not just met, but exceeded.
Changing Trends and the Importance of Exceeding Expectations
Before the pandemic, dining out was a common way for people to socialize and unwind. However, with the onset of COVID-19, many restaurants were forced to close their doors or limit their capacity, causing a significant decline in the number of people eating out. As a result, restaurants had to quickly adapt by offering takeout and delivery options to cater to their customers' changing needs.
Now that restrictions have well and truly lifted and people are returning to restaurants, their expectations for their dining experience are considerably higher. Of course, customers expect restaurants to prioritize hygiene and safety protocols – and rightly so – but they also want to be provided with a modern and efficient ordering process, alongside high-quality food and top dollar service.
To meet and exceed these expectations, restaurants have had to embrace change and invest in technology, streamlining their operations and improving their customer service levels. One such example is the increasing use of online ordering and delivery systems, allowing customers to place orders from their mobile devices, reducing wait times, and increasing convenience. In addition, many restaurants are now using digital menus in-house. In this way, they are providing customers with more information about their offerings, and what steps can be taken to accommodate all dietary needs.
Increased Appetite for Faster Delivery and Better Quality Interaction, Kitchen to Fork
One of the biggest changes in consumer expectations in recent years has been the demand for faster and more personalized food options. With many people working from home and dealing with hectic schedules, they want their food to be ready quickly and easily accessible.
Restaurants can meet this demand by offering faster service, and one of the ways this can be achieved is by using technology to automate the ordering and payment process. In addition, businesses can offer personalized food options, such as customized salads or build-your-own pizzas, making sure they are catering to customers' unique tastes and dietary requirements.
To ensure customer satisfaction, restaurants are also focusing more on the quality of their food and service, investing in high-quality ingredients and providing further training to their staff to guarantee excellent customer service during both the dine-in and take-out experience. A positive overall experience, whether that’s on or off-premise, will help build a loyal customer base and ultimately attract new customers through positive word-of-mouth or a five-star online review.
Evolving Customers and What Restaurants Can Do to Ensure Satisfaction
Customers' preferences and expectations are constantly evolving, and restaurants must keep up with these changes to remain competitive. For example, many customers are now more health-conscious and prefer to eat food that is fresh, nutritious, and locally sourced. In order to build and maintain loyalty, businesses must rise to these challenges.
Restaurants can meet changing demands by offering healthier menu options, sourcing more of their ingredients locally, or indeed using technology to provide customers with more information about the nutritional content of their food. Enabling customers to make an informed decision when they are ordering their food is definitely half the battle.
In addition, restaurants can build on the knowledge that is presented to them by using customer feedback to improve their offerings and ensure high level satisfaction. Surveys – either in-house or during the delivery process – are a great way to get feedback on both the food and service levels.
Lastly, running regular promotions is a great way to target current customers in a bid to increase brand loyalty and influence repeat purchasing. And it couldn’t be easier. Restaurants can leverage customizable SMS campaigns to promote their brand and offer customers exclusive offers or discounts, meaning they’ll certainly be back for more.
The Growing Importance of Delivery Technology in the Restaurant Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic definitely accelerated the shift towards food delivery, with many customers preferring to order food from the comfort of their own homes. This has led to a surge in demand for technology, such as food delivery apps and delivery management software. Restaurants can capitalize on this trend by partnering with delivery platforms and/or offering their own delivery services. They can also use technology to optimize their delivery operations, such as:
- GPS tracking to monitor the status of their deliveries and ensure timely and accurate delivery
- Automation to reduce manual tasks and increase fulfillment capabilities
- Order stacking to ensure maximum efficiency when it comes to orders being delivered within the same area
But, it’s not as simple as just changing your offering to include delivery. Restaurants must also be aware of the challenges that come with food delivery, such as maintaining the quality of meals and ensuring the delivery is fast. To make the service profitable, it is crucial for restaurant brands to be able to fulfill the demand for orders at low delivery costs. This can be achieved by utilizing the right delivery management system. It is vital that customers are not left waiting so a system that allows for excess orders to be delivered by third-party fleets will ensure that everyone is happy.
Food Delivery As a Major Player
Food delivery has become a major player in the restaurant industry, and its importance has only grown in recent years. Consumer expectations have increased and shifted towards convenience and it looks like there is no turning back. Here in the US, and indeed globally, customers are looking for easier ways to order their food, and get it delivered fast and at a reasonable price. Historically, restaurants have made little to no profit from this channel of their business and to overcome this challenge, the use of technology has become increasingly important in optimizing delivery operations and improving profitability.
By leveraging technology, such as online ordering platforms and delivery management systems, restaurants can enhance their delivery services, reduce costs, and increase revenue. The reality is, in today's fast-paced world, technology is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for restaurants to stay competitive and thrive within the food delivery market.