Even before the pandemic, the shift from on-premise to off-premise dining was happening. But the pandemic truly accelerated it, and even as people return to restaurant dining rooms now, there is still a way to go before things look the way they did a couple of years ago. To be sure, the trend is especially stark for full-service restaurants – new data from FSR Magazine indicates that in September of 2019, 80 percent of traffic at full-service restaurants was on-premise (compared to 20 percent for carryout), whereas the mix in September of 2021 was 56 percent on-premise, 44 percent carryout. Still, across restaurant categories, an operator needs to make a clear-eyed assessment of their business model in light of current market conditions, then take steps to protect the business for the long term. That means expanding, not limiting, opportunities to serve guests – and resisting the urge to revert back to how you were operating pre-pandemic. Consider new opportunities for catering, particularly as businesses are looking for ways to maintain connections between hybrid workers and clients. Keep communication open with neighboring restaurants and complementary businesses that may be able to pool resources, share staff, or collaborate with you on promotions. Think about how to make it easier and faster for your food to reach guests who want to eat it off-premise, whether that means assessing third-party delivery providers to find the best-possible arrangement, starting an in-house delivery service or using a ghost kitchen.
Restaurant brands are more reliant than ever on third parties responsible for the last mile between a consumer and the takeout food they ordered. Yet even when food arrives cold or soggy due to a third-party delivery vendor who took too long to reach an end customer, the restaurant – not the delivery provider – is far more often the one to receive the negative review or angry phone call. The handoff is critical and both the restaurant and third-party delivery provider need to be in sync about the importance of protecting the restaurant’s brand in off-premise environments – through accuracy, speed and service. As Geoff Alexander, President & CEO of Wao Bao, said at The Spoon’s recent Restaurant Tech Summit: the “brand transfer has to be the most guarded and respected piece by the brand itself and by the operator to work together.” If your restaurant offers delivery, what do you do to ensure your brand doesn’t lose value when you hand an order to a third-party delivery provider?