The pandemic has put restaurant packaging under a magnifying glass. That will only increase this winter, with fewer (if any) dine-in guests in your restaurant. Your packaging is what ensures the experience of eating your food is as good at a distance as it is in your dining room. Is yours up to the task? The materials you’re using – as well as your to-go menu – should be adjusting to the times. If items your restaurant is known for don’t travel well – like burgers and fries – make new packaging a priority. While the pandemic has posed seemingly endless challenges for the restaurant industry, it has also sparked innovation – including the development of new packaging options (along with new uses for existing packaging, like paella being delivered in pizza boxes). Eco-friendly options are on the rise right now – and will likely again be more of a consumer demand as we emerge from the pandemic, which has caused many restaurants to return to plastic and Styrofoam packaging for the short term. If you’re making packaging changes right now, consider packaging made from biodegradable materials or easily renewable sources like bamboo, as this report from Stylus explains. As the distribution of the vaccine makes life feel safer, you may also be able to return to reusable containers that guests can return and refill. A recent McKinsey report said post-pandemic, packaging companies will need to think about three requirements going forward: sustainability, hygiene and effective direct-to-consumer design. Restaurants should have a growing number of packaging options available to help them perfect the off-premise experience.
In recent months, your business may have offered more bulk meals or meal kits to customers looking to enjoy restaurant-quality food during the lockdown. Are these options worth carrying over as people begin to return to dining at restaurants and gathering with more people? Simon-Kucher & Partners, a global strategy and marketing consulting firm that works with a range of major restaurant brands, addressed this question in a recent study they conducted about consumer behavior after COVID-19. The findings, as reported by QSR Magazine, indicate that the answer is a probable yes. Prior to the pandemic, it found that 33 percent of consumers favored home-cooked meals, while 67 preferred food prepared away from home. Contrast that with preferences during the pandemic (55 percent vs. 45 percent) and preferences projected between six and 12 months post-lockdown (37 percent to 63 percent). In many areas, it will likely take a number of months before consumer routines return to what they were like prior to the pandemic. Providing some core menu items that can be offered as family-style meals, or packaging up ingredients that can be combined and cooked at home, can offer some additional freedom to guests – and perhaps tip the scales in your favor when consumers are considering where to order their next meal.
In restaurants just a couple of weeks ago, having a solid plan for off-premise business was highly recommended but perhaps not essential. Well here we are – and for restaurants across the nation, takeout has suddenly become the only option to allow business operations to continue for the time being. Whether you offer off-premise menu items such as takeout meals that customers can pick up outside your door, or you have food delivered, restaurants can play an important role in providing a sense of normalcy and community in these unsettling times. Try to think of your menu and marketing in a new way. What items available through your regular suppliers can be included in care packages to be sent home with people who are house-bound right now? Can you create meal bundles complete with appetizers and comfort food that may appeal to families looking for relief after a day of managing remote learning? Do you have a popular house-made beer that people may crave to relieve some stress at the end of the day? (Note that state regulators have begun to allow delivery of cocktails.) Can you create partnerships with other restaurant operators to pool resources on a temporary basis? How can you think outside of the box and provide food and some much-needed positivity to your customers through the weeks ahead? When spreading the word about your takeout options, think beyond the usual channels – on your social media and email list, encourage people to help promote you to friends at their schools, houses of worship and other local organizations that are eager to help people in your community the weeks ahead.
As delivery ramps up, are drive thrus on the way out? Minneapolis may have set a precedent recently by banning the construction of new drive thrus in the name of health and safety: The city wants to cut back on vehicle noise, idling and traffic and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Existing drive thrus in the city will remain intact, however.