It seems that with each passing week, more restaurant brands – both new and established – are preparing for a future in which our actions in the metaverse, the fast-developing virtual reality world, can help us enjoy restaurant meals in reality. Panera and McDonald’s are among the larger restaurant brands that have invested in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that serve as virtual currency. In the not-too-distant future, it could be possible for a person to, say, play a video game in the metaverse in which they walk into a virtual restaurant, place a Panera order, and then have it arrive on their (real-life doorstep) within a period of minutes. To be sure, this is not a future that every restaurant will see in its business plan. But this merging of virtual and real worlds is something for every restaurant operator to think about because it creates a new dimension in the experience of eating in a restaurant. It will change the competitive landscape and provide new ways for restaurants to establish and promote their brands. Even if you’re not planning to dip your toe into the metaverse, think about your restaurant’s online presence. How can you make it a more authentic, brand-elevating expression of the experience you offer in your dining room?
It’s not the eye-catching ambience on display through your front windows that is drawing people to your restaurant right now – your website is more likely the place responsible for making a good first impression and enticing people to support your restaurant. Are you making it as easy as possible for people to find you, be assured of the hours you will be open, access your menu and place an order? First, review and update your information on GoogleMyBusiness to manage your presence across both search and map functions. Beyond that, make sure your hours, phone number, webpage link and physical location are up to date, and that your website (with minimal clicks) allows people to access your menu and new safety and hygiene practices. On your website, consider a pop-up invitation to join your email list – and preview the benefits of joining it. Your online information – including what is viewable on a search engine or your site itself – should be just as easy to read on a phone as on a computer or tablet screen.
Even as restaurants around the country reopen their dining rooms, the experience of sitting down and enjoying a meal with someone – nevermind as a group – likely won’t be quite the same for a while. But at a time when people are sorely missing the restaurant experience – and operators are straining to make the numbers work – can you assess the best parts of your pre-pandemic service and brand and virtualize them somehow? The chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch told Food & Wine that she has been developing virtual cooking classes and demonstrations, and is thinking about creating a virtual restaurant concept as a partner business. Virtual reality (VR) dining experiences are even happening – and while they’re currently offered at a high price point, costs are likely to fall as adoption of VR and 5G technology expands. Even if you’re not ready for that, it’s time to assess the elements that make your brand memorable – from your music selection to your servers’ quirky personalities to the art on your walls – and determine how to deliver those things to guests online and in their homes.