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RC Show highlight: Moving forward from COVID means keeping your customers’ needs in mind


March 2, 2021
By Canadian Pizza

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If you want to have growth in your business during and beyond the pandemic, you have to be ahead of the curve. This was the overriding message of a virtual Restaurants Canada Show panel “Where do we go from here? COVID-19’s impact on foodservice and hospitality.”

The experts set out to help operators do just that by sharing insights on the lasting effects of the work-from-home movement on food service, where Canadians are spending money and the evolution of service coming out of the pandemic.

Asad Amin, vice-president of Ipsos, shared insights from two studies Ipsos carried out through Foodservice Monitor and Five Syndicated.

A whopping 90 per cent of Canadians are eating at home for the vast majority of their meals and the question is, will people become comfortable in this habit? Prior to pandemic, 42 per cent worked outside the home, now it’s 23 per cent working away from home and 31 per cent working from home.

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“We may not get that traffic back after the pandemic,” Amin said. “There is a strong urge to be at home, people are comfortable and they may not want to change.”

He shared findings that, depending on your pizzeria’s situation, may or may not surprise you:

  • Those working away from home tend to be older blue collar and those working from home tend to be on the younger side.
  • Lunchtime traffic is down 43 per cent primarily because of the exodus of office workers.
  • Delivery has grown by 45 per cent.

Digging into delivery, Amin revealed that average party size has grown significantly over the pandemic period. People ordering from home are ordering in larger quantities and this is something you’ll want to keep this in mind.

On the electronic side, two-thirds of Canadians use streaming services, more than half communicate by video and one-third work using video. Of interest to restaurants, nearly half are engaging with screens when ordering food.

Before the pandemic, basic hunger was the main motivation behind eating at home and something he called “craveable rewards” was the motivation behind eating out. Interestingly, now people are interested in craveable rewards both at home and when going out.

Restaurants need to learn how to tap into the trend of people working from home, staying at home and wanting to treat themselves.

Vince Sgabellone, Foodservice Industry Analyst with The NPD Group, talked about how retail spending has shifted. We are shopping and eating differently and the idea of having experiences – “the experience economy” – has declined drastically. Instead of a vacation, people are barbecuing in their backyard. Instead of going to the gym, they are buying in-home exercise equipment.

We’re spending less and saving more – possibly to buy a home away from a city or a car to socially distance while travelling and access drive-thrus, he speculated.

About this time last year, NPD Group reported digital food service spending had tripled. This past year that has tripled again.

Local vacationers have needs – they are just different needs than outside tourists.

“We need to reach people where they are and help them improve their quality of life at home,” he said. This includes birthday parties and corporate events. To reach these customers, consider offering subscriptions, meal kits or hosting online events. Why not help support people who are buying gadgets to cook at home get more use out of their gadgets? Why not help them fight cooking fatigue by reminding them they can escape the routine with a restaurant meal. Support local tourism and stay-cations. Promote meals to-go and cross-promotion with other local businesses. Local vacationers have needs – they are just different needs than outside tourists.

Full-service restaurant recovery has plateaued at about -15 per cent for last four months. How do we jump-start sales? This industry needs to, as one example, encourage ordering more food than they thought they needed  and eating leftovers. Focus on customers’ needs and the sales will come.

Off-premise dining will maintain a larger share of eating occasions, said Melissa Wilson, principal of Technomic Inc. But what will off-premise look like in the coming months?

Technomic did a survey of 1,000 consumers. Many said they will eat out more, but almost an equal number said they will eat out less. People say they expect to order less from third-party but the convenience is expected to continue to draw them in. And younger people will continue to drive off-premise dining.

We can expect to see more technologies for ordering, more geofencing and more ghost kitchens. There are more of these types of innovations and that is because customers are using them more. Customers are driving that innovation.

They’re seeing fast-casual brands adding drive-thru, new to-go-only formats by full-service brands such as Buffalo Wild Wings and big brands such as KFC scaling back on eat-in to do more curbside delivery with customized parking spots. Our expectations of different types of restaurants – full-service, drive-thru, fast-casual – are changing.

On a positive note, the survey results suggest consumers can’t wait to dine in again. 65 per cent of people miss being waited on, having someone else plan their meals and do the dishes. And about 60 per cent of people surveyed said they miss the atmosphere.

Consumers still need convenience when kids go back to school and former routines come back and life accelerates. But they will want to eat things they wouldn’t prepare at home, and don’t have the same level of presentation of a restaurant. Visible cleaning and sanitation will be more important than ever post-pandemic: it will be expected and a strong consideration in where people eat out.

Self-service concerns will linger. People said they will use these less: food and salad bars, self-serve desserts, self-serve bakery cases all will be slow to return. Use of tabletop condiments are a concern but to a lesser degree.

Almost one-third of operators plan to invest in voice-activated technology and many are interested in hands-free door openers or hands-free technology. The pandemic has made us view robotics differently. It’s now seen as less gimmicky, more practical and safer.