When fireworks burst and glasses clinked at midnight on December 31, 2019, we never expected what would happen to foodservice just a few months later. Now, seven months later, we’re looking at how the coronavirus has changed foodservice and what operators can do to stay successful through one of the toughest seasons the industry has ever seen. While this year has brought significant challenges, foodservice operators made changes that wouldn’t have happened otherwise:
- Educating the Customer
“You have a moment in time here where the consumer is a lot more forgiving which also gives you the power to really educate the consumer,” said Joseph Shumaker, founder of Foodspace, a Silicon Valley-based company that designs and manages the food and beverage operations for a variety of clients.
We all remember the “bread stage” of quarantine. People who hadn’t cooked an egg in years were suddenly creating beautiful, fresh sourdough in their home kitchens. With the resurgence of home cooking, restaurants found themselves with both the opportunity and necessity to try something different with their customers. For years, restaurants fought to win the majority of Americans’ food budget. They finally captured 53.8 percent in 2018, reports the Columbus Dispatch. However, that number plummeted within days when the coronavirus closed indoor dining. When some restaurants realized their popular menu items didn’t translate well to-go, they decided to create an offering that resembled meal kits instead. Rather than lose their customers to grocery stores or meal kit companies, these restaurants were able to retain loyal fans by teaching them how to make their favorite dishes at home.
“I have actually seen a couple of restaurants that have taken, let’s use a salmon filet as an example, and they’ve par-seared a salmon filet but not cooked it all the way and they sent finishing instructions along with the dish and they packaged it separately in something that could go right into the oven. And they told the consumer ahead of time…’preheat your oven to 425F and then you’re going to put this piece of fish in your oven at your house for 6 minutes.’ They sent the sauce on the side,” said Shumaker.
- Get Digital
“It’s about thinking outside how I traditionally get my consumer to buy my stuff. It’s about thinking like Amazon. It’s about thinking about the data. As the foodservice industry in general, we are so far behind technologically that it’s hard for some of these folks to wrap their head around how to gain market share in a digital environment,” said Shumaker.
The coronavirus pandemic was the catalyst that many restaurants needed to get more involved in digital. Previously, punch cards were the extent of a restaurant’s loyalty program. While this keeps your customers returning, it doesn’t give you any information on their spending habits. Now, restaurants are realizing apps and digital loyalty programs and promotions bring more bang for their buck. Creating an app allows operators to capture information about their customers while increasing their loyalty to the business. As Shumaker pointed out, many foodservice operations aren’t capturing and using customer data to their advantage. Utilizing this data can allow operators to see what customers want and present them with options that will enhance their customer experience.
- Ghost Kitchens
Ghost kitchens were already on the rise when the coronavirus pandemic happened. Suddenly, delivery was thrust further into the spotlight and ghost kitchens were really given their chance to be seen. Shumaker sees ghost kitchens continuing in popularity and predicts they will evolve into a modernized food court.
“Five years ago, when we were talking about ghost kitchens, this was already the vision of what they could be, but nobody has actually done that with success on a national scale. There are pockets of it, but this is the untapped next gen version of a food hall, of a convenience-based food offering that checks all of these boxes. I think in the next decade, I would be shocked if this isn’t the next wave of how ghost kitchens work, how consumers buy hot, ready-to-go consumer facing food. I think that’s where we’re heading,” said Shumaker.
This vision would allow customers to order from multiple restaurant concepts. They would be able to receive everything in one delivery because all of the food would be cooked in the same building. It’s an idea that could very well become a reality in the near future.
The foodservice industry might get knocked down, but they don’t stay there for long. The proof is in the way restaurants have kept fighting and evolving despite the extreme circumstances thrust upon them. Listen to more insights from foodservice industry members on CambroEats.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADRIANA DESIDERIO IS THE DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER AT CAMBRO.