New Experiences and Channels: The Restaurant Industry in 2021

2020 has been an incredibly trying year for the restaurant industry. It's estimated that 100,000 restaurants have already closed because of the pandemic and there’s no doubt that we will continue to feel the effects of 2020 well into 2021. However, not all hope is lost.

As operators begin to firm up plans for the new year, they should keep in mind the wants and needs of their guests and take the lessons they’ve learned this year to prep themselves for what’s next to drive future success.    

Personalized Dining is the Future

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted restaurants and operators themselves, it has also changed consumer habits in ways we could have never imagined. As we head into the new year, we expect to see consumers traveling less, shifting their discretionary travel spending to local experiences like restaurants.

To fulfill these new dining expectations, operators should plan to provide their guests with a quintessential 360-degree experience that is personalized from start to finish. To do this, operators should prioritize data-driven technology solutions that not only help them collect data on their guests, but own and leverage it across the entire customer life cycle – both online and offline. These systems allow operators to create seamless, tailored dining experiences that ultimately drive both guest loyalty and revenue.  

Take a NYC resident who has become a regular delivery patron of one of their favorite restaurants throughout the pandemic. By using the data collected through direct online ordering, the operator can automatically collect details on this guest’s favorite items and create a personalized offer or discount for them to take advantage of on their next on-premise visit. Once they visit, operators can also use this data to surprise them with their favorite bottle of wine, or a complimentary appetizer – giving them a “surprise and delight” that will create further guest loyalty in the future.

New Channels Will Continue to Emerge

While operators should continue to focus on experiences in 2021, they also need to keep an eye on new channels emerging as a result of the pandemic, like ghost kitchens. Ghost kitchens have been a growing trend for some time, with COVID-19 only increasing their popularity and adoption. However, there is a fine line for operators between taking advantage of these outlets and being overshadowed by a ghost kitchen restaurant brand whose sole purpose is to pump out delivery orders.

According to data uncovered by our recent Restaurant Reckoning report, one in four (23 percent) Americans indicated that, for the duration of 2020, they will only order food for delivery or pick-up. This sentiment, paired with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s next phase, leads us to believe this trend will only increase in the year ahead. For operators looking to capitalize on this and drive revenue, ghost kitchens can be incredibly useful, but only if they are used in the right way. Because ghost kitchens are designed to churn out menu items for delivery, it can be easy for a restaurant’s brand and identity to get lost in the shuffle. To avoid this, operators have to prioritize ways to maintain their brand identity by utilizing data to create unmatched experiences through personal touches, consistency and stellar guest relationships.

Looking Ahead

While this coming year does bring with it a new start, it won’t be without its challenges. As the industry continues to fight for extended aid and call on the nation’s leaders for help, it’s clear there are still many battles left to fight. How operators react, adapt and prioritize their efforts now will be key to their long-term success. Despite these challenges, I’m confident that the industry’s agility, adaptability and resilience will bring them through to the other side.