These are odd times, but if the crisis is the real catalyst of change, then we can expect enormous innovations in the restaurant industry in response to changes in consumer behavior and expectations. There is a strong possibility that these innovations will give rise to a more robust and resilient industry in the long run.

Here are some citations from a survey conducted on a sample of the average restaurant customer conducted by Simon-Kucher

  • Willingness-to-pay to return to similar or higher levels across channels – When consumers do eat out, they intend to frequent more healthy (e.g., salad/sandwich) or high quality (e.g., fast-casual burger) restaurants.
  • Consumers plan to order more frequently from apps/websites post-lockdowns – Consumers intend to order 25% of meals via apps and websites after stay-at-home orders are lifted, compared to 21% before COVID-19.
  • While this number is still growing, up to now only 45% of consumers have ordered food via delivery. 70% of these delivery orders go through a 3rd party platform.
  • Delivery and curbside pick-up will continue to grow even after lockdowns are lifted. Consumers intend to receive 14% of meals through delivery and 8% of meals through curbside pick-up post-COVID-19, compared to 12% and 5%, respectively, pre-COVID-19.

In this article, I will talk about consumer behavior changes and how restaurants can adapting to changing consumer habits post-COVID-19.

1. Contactless is the way ahead – Digital menus, delivery & pickups

Digital Menus a consumer behaviour change post COVID-19

a. Digital Menus

One of the major concerns for restaurants right now is to start using disposable menus. Although, with the unprecedented loss in income over the past couple of months, disposable lists aren’t cost-effective. Instead, digital QR Code menus have surfaced as the best solution.

It is no secret that menus carry by far the largest concentrations of bacteria of any item on a restaurant table – 185,000 per square centimeter, or 16 times as much as the second-most germ-infested item (pepper shakers).  And, so replacing them with an option that is touched by only one customer has felt like a no-brainer over the past few months. However, there are strong indications that digital menus will be around long after the pandemic ends, for the simple reason that many customers really enjoy using them.

Contactless Delivery as a Consumer Behaviour Change Post COVID-19
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b. Contactless off-premise delivery

In recent months, off-premise dining has become very popular—and almost all restaurants have gone above and beyond to cater to customer demand.

According to Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor, 72% of consumers are concerned that dining rooms are reopening too quickly, and 65% say that restaurants should only offer a drive-thru, pickup, and delivery. Long story short, off-premise dining is here to stay. And contactless order fulfillment can make the process safer, faster, and overall more enjoyable for the customer. 

Consider having an online ordering solution such as FoodKonnekt, which is a customer-centric online ordering system that enables seamless inventory setup and can be easily integrated into your website and social media to promote online ordering functionality.

2. Hygiene to beat the taste

Hygiene over taste as a consumer behavior change post COVID-19: Consumer Behavior change

COVID-19 has given rise to a new benchmarking parameter for restaurants; hygiene rating. Restaurants will have to go the extra mile to convince customers about their hygiene standards.

5-star ratings, which were earlier indicative of taste and offers, primarily, will no longer be sufficient. Plus, people will be more active on review platforms like Google My Business and Yelp, and hence timely review management tools will be much appreciated.

Food bloggers will first be writing about hygiene and safety, then service, before they start to even talk about taste or presentation. So new rules and benchmarks are likely to kick-in, and perhaps stay on in the days ahead changing the consumer behavior around restaurants forever.

3. Home cooking has made a comeback in COVID times. 

DIY Food Kits as a consumer behavior change post COVID-19

In a little over a decade, the Meal Kit has come a long way and in the COVID-19 world we live in today, the Meal Kit seems to be a one-stop solution for virtually all players across the entire F&B ecosystem, including retailers, e-tailers, CPG/ FMCG brand owners, restaurants, QSRs and even pubs and bars to get themselves out of this pandemic logjam and maximize the opportunities in the current scenario.

Meal kits hit the sweet spot with consumers who don’t have time to shop for groceries or don’t want to order from foodservice and still want the satisfaction of having cooked at home! With meal kits, pre-portioned ingredients with easy-to-follow recipes are delivered straight to the doorstep. Websites feature high-quality images of foods with flavor profiles of all kinds and allow for adjustable delivery times whenever need be. Meal kit delivery services have exploded over the past few years, bridging the space between home-cooked meals and takeaways. The main point is to make cooking easier, faster, and more accessible.

4. Choosing Digital Channels over Walk-ins

While the restaurant industry has been struck by COVID-19, a surprisingly large number has already endured the storm by shifting to digital platforms like social media, a website including online ordering.

Digital channels over walk ins as a consumer behavior change post COVID-19: Consumer Behavior change

a. Micro Social Media Management

Micro social media marketing centered on community-based advertising will become a more significant focus to reach out to customers—for example, homeowners associations, next-door neighbor sites, fund-raisers city blog pages. You can also use these ads to take people to your own website instead of operating through third-party apps like UberEats and GrubHub. This can help decrease the amount of fees you have to pay for these third-party apps, which can help optimize your revenue. For more ideas, check out our blog on Facebook advertising strategies for restaurants.

b. Automated Messages

Other exciting ways of leveraging social media include automating messenger messages on Facebook and website to take orders and retargeting repeat customers. 

There’s a good chance a restaurant’s customer base is trying to reach them through multiple channels right now. An Auto reply is one way to ensure those customers get a response, even if when you are dealing with high-volume customer service inquiries or have temporarily closed your doors. This is again a result of consumer behavior changes post-COVID-19.

5. Customer Loyalty

Consumer Loyalty changes as a bigger change consumer behavior change post COVID-19

One other, more critical change in consumer behavior is visit frequency. Patrons will choose to visit places they trust more often than traversing new areas. Therefore, influencing customers and gaining their trust on their first visit is essential. Customers will solicit confidence in the places they frequent as primary decision-making criteria, instead of previously important factors including convenience, discounts, adventure, exploration, discovery, experience, etc. TRUST will triumph all.

Loyalty becomes of supreme importance to businesses. It is their loyal customers, their repeat visitors, which will bring them business, keep them adrift. Managing effective interactions with customers will lead to more repeat visits. Once a customer trusts you, customers will not only visit you more often but also lead to more word of mouth. 

Last Thoughts:

Various parts of the world are at different stages of the global pandemic. Some have recovered faster than others, while the rest of the world is still struggling with the crisis. Perversely, the scale of the outbreak is directly proportional to the impact on the business. Change is upon us, and the onus is on the restaurant industry to respond to innovation and creativity. This is perhaps the only way to a new and exciting future- to a new normal!

Picture Credits: Image by DarkWorkX, Arek Socha from Pixabay,  Norma Mortenson from Pexels, Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash.