Canadian Pizza Magazine

Report outlines steps in restaurant response to COVID-19

By Canadian Pizza   

COVID-19 Updates News Business and Operations Trends

For restaurant operators, consumers’ fears of public spaces as well as government recommendations and regulations have been damaging to business. Suspended dine-in service has forced operators to pivot to takeaway, drive-thru and delivery models only, but even those changes haven’t prevented more drastic measures from going into effect. Revised operating hours, staff reductions and temporary and permanent restaurant closures are some of the unavoidable outcomes facing restaurants during this pandemic.

A new report from Technomic called “Coronavirus: Canadian Foodservice View” looks at how the spread of COVID-19 is affecting Canada’s foodservice industry, how customers’ views of food service have altered since the outbreak, how operators are coping and giving back, and what recovery will look like.

Customer behaviour

More than two in five consumers have been cooking meals at home much more often, while just over one-third have ordered takeout from restaurants much less often. This is not expected to change throughout the isolation period. In fact, if similar isolation measures continue for another month, about 40 per cent of consumers say they will never order takeout from a restaurant in that time. The biggest impediment for ordering takeout is safety/cleanliness concerns, with 43.7 per cent of consumers agreeing.

Motivators for which restaurant to visit have also changed significantly over the past few months. While love of the food (27.3%) was by far the top motivator for choosing specific restaurants prior to the coronavirus, facets that consumers are now looking for with restaurants are quite different. More discounts, coupons or deals (34.3%) is the leading motivator to order more frequently from restaurants during the self-isolation period, unsurprisingly considering the more than 1 million Canadians who lost their jobs in March alone and are looking for value offerings. Communicating transparent health and safety policies as well as creating touch-free takeout options round out the top three influences.


Operator behaviour

Technomic reports seeing swift action from all types of foodservice businesses over the past few months to support business both within and outside the industry. Here are some shared pandemic responses from restaurant operators:

Contactless and clean operations. Promoting contactless takeout, drive-thru and delivery services, as well as increased cleaning and sanitation protocols, are key measures that full- and limited-service operators have taken since the outbreak to assure consumers that ordering from restaurants is safe. The “no-contact” operations put into place also extend to customer payments. Second Cup Coffee Co. and St-Hubert both stopped taking cash but still accept other payments, such as debit and credit cards, gift cards and online payments.

Pivoting beyond food service. Restaurants are finding other ways to supply food and drink to customers during the quarantine by expanding their services to include groceries and meal kits. Contemporary casual-dining chain Earls is selling grocery bundles that include dairy, eggs, produce, meat and pantry items for pickup or delivery, and it is marketing the service as a way to avoid lines at grocery stores. The brand is also selling do-it-yourself chef kits for guests to cook at home. Further, full-service operators are offering cocktail kits, as well as discounted bottled wines and beers, for consumers to enjoy.

Protecting their own. Operators are finding ways to help their employees during this time, such as revising sick-leave policies to support those with virus symptoms and providing additional income streams (for example, Starbucks Canada adding a tip option to its iOS app so customers can thank employees working through the pandemic, etc.). They are also looking after foodservice industry workers who lost their jobs due to restaurant and bar closures. For instance, Nando’s in Canada is allocating a number of free meals per day for laid-off members of the restaurant industry and is offering free family meals to current employees’ families in need.

Giving back to front-line workers. Despite their struggles, many operators are showing support for those whose work puts them most at risk of contracting the virus. This includes providing discounted and free food to health-care, postal and retail workers.

Helping cash-strapped customers. With more Canadians carefully watching their spending, operators are lending a hand by feeding consumers in need at no or discounted cost during this distressing economic time. Some are giving away complimentary meals to those struggling financially due to COVID-19. Others are helping by offering free services and discounted food.

Future outlook

There’s much uncertainty in the months to come as Canadians wait for virus cases to dwindle and businesses to eventually reopen. In the meantime, restaurant operators will continue to struggle paying rent and other costs. Government relief measures will help some survive this period, but many restaurants may never reopen their doors.

However, hope is on the horizon. Most consumers believe their normal takeout and dine-in foodservice habits prior to the coronavirus outbreak will go back to normal once the pandemic is resolved. But restaurants will have to continue to break through consumer barriers created by COVID-19 to win back traffic. Important steps should include:

Pushing value offers: Just because restaurants reopen doesn’t mean consumers will return to spending at restaurants as they did before the coronavirus. When asked what change consumers would most like to see in restaurants to make them order more frequently after the pandemic, 23.1 per cent said a decrease in prices and 19 per cent said more discounts and coupons.

Promoting continued safety and cleanliness practices: One of the biggest barriers that operators will face in winning back traffic after the coronavirus pandemic is making consumers feel safe eating at restaurants again. In fact, 17.3 per cent of consumers say cleanliness will be their primary motivator for choosing a restaurant in a post-COVID-19 environment. Operators will need to continue to tout elevated cleaning and sanitation protocols beyond the end of the outbreak.

Emphasizing experience: The second-highest motivator that consumers cite for choosing a restaurant after the pandemic is friendliness and experience (11.8 per cent). Experience has always meant different things to different people, but the definition after the pandemic resolves will likely involve the social environment because most consumers are currently practising isolation measures. Operators should market their restaurants as good places for groups of family and friends to spend time with one another, something that may have previously been taken for granted.

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