When it comes to optimizing the guest experience for tomorrow, it can be enlightening to look at yesterday’s experience. Looking back at 2008, top restaurant chefs were fired during the recession and few places were hired, so there was an increase in an influx of motivated talent ready for their next opportunity. If chefs couldn’t find homes in restaurants, where could they create and experiment? The streets.
The proliferation of mobile food trucks has been fueled not only by quirky culinary talent, but also by the boom in their following on emerging social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Now restaurants and food trucks are no longer separated from each other.
So what are the far-reaching implications of the pandemic for the restaurant industry? How can we cut through the noise and create that easy, frictionless experience that today’s and tomorrow’s customers demand?
Mobile ordering has become the hallmark of a great omnichannel. Advance ordering via mobile app reduces bottlenecks in the drive-thru lane or at the counter. However, with this multitude of customer journeys, we need to make sure it’s clear where the guest needs to go to pick up their food. It’s also important to keep in mind that customers are more likely to pick up their order from the restaurant than to choose delivery.
Organic, mixed-tech experiences will prevail. For example, a customer who orders and prepays via the app on their phone will walk into the restaurant and happily collect their order from simple, organized racks. Our job is to make sure the path is clear, the signage is concise and the experience feels on-brand to keep the customer coming back quickly.
I certainly foresee a decrease in square footage directly related to the sole purpose of dining. That said, with more businesses and employees moving away, I think we’re going to see more brand partnerships and mixed-use spaces that can accommodate work meetings and collaboration sessions, community event spaces, and even permanent retail stores and goods suppliers.
Lockdowns and physical distancing requirements at the start of the pandemic gave the category a huge boost, with delivery becoming a lifeline for the hurtful restaurant industry. Unfortunately, third-party delivery apps, although needed for many months at the start of the pandemic, are now killing our restaurants.
While the delivery journey is similar to the previous goals I discussed with the mobile order ahead, there are specific considerations that must be paid to deliverers. We must ensure that there is sufficient bicycle parking in urban areas to protect drivers’ means of transport. In addition, it is imperative that the path for deliverers has enough space to store their bags and we have a shelf area that allows them to pack the items carefully.
However, delivery isn’t going away, along with recent transparency in costs for restaurants, along with subpar current delivery experiences (cold food, a reported 30 percent of drivers snacking on your food…), I see autonomous delivery becoming the next frontier. .
We have developed an emotional connection to the outdoors. Eating outside was equated with safety for 18 months, and that habit is now deeply entrenched. For our customers in colder climates, we have been asked to explore fresh air circulation options that would not have previously been thought of, such as large, operable skylight and truss systems or large, flexible window wall systems that can be used for three seasons.
In keeping with the roaring nineteen twenties, I believe that entertainment concepts will evolve into an escapist experience. Dining out takes on a whole new meaning: either figuratively where avant-garde environments feel like a mini-adventure or a new concept of entertainment, theatrical or captivating, developing new possibilities for a night out with food and fun.
As we reflect on the lessons learned from the pandemic, we should always ask ourselves what comes next. How can we take convenience, loyalty and experience to a higher level and ensure that the catering industry is always ready to weather the next storm?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
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