While life has slowly opened back up in recent months as more people have received the Covid-19 vaccine, concern has lingered for families with children who are too young to receive the vaccine and others who have health conditions that prevent them from receiving it. As a result, this winter we can expect to see more families reforming the bubbles they created for support in the early months of the pandemic. It’s something to consider when planning your menu and marketing promotions. For families, meal bundles will likely continue to be in demand for not only the holidays but for weekend meals throughout the winter. Think about offering soups and comfort foods that can be taken home to fill the freezer, promotions that offer discounted kids’ meals with the purchase of adult meals, or to-go packages of appetizers, entrées, cocktails and desserts for small groups. At the same time, this winter could also present an opportunity for you to make your onsite promotions extra special for guests who don’t fit those categories and are looking for a good excuse to go out. Consider offering prix-fixe meals for two, date-night cocktail specials or dessert samplers, bringing in musicians, or hosting private events with your chef or sommelier
How can you best protect your business from future spikes in COVID-19? Recent research from Technomic found that operators are looking for manufacturers and distributors to offer support in managing current product shortages – and how best to stock up on ingredients if future outbreaks occur. More than three-fifths of restaurant operators are reporting product shortages, mainly in animal proteins, which is leading them to consider choosing frozen over fresh product. Just over half of operators said there were likely to switch to frozen beef, for example. Beyond that, there may be opportunity to secure longer payment terms and more flexible delivery schedules as product shortages persist.
In surveys Datassential conducted in June, consumers showed a commanding preference for purchasing meals to go/pick up over both delivered food and meals eaten in a restaurant. For limited-service and full-service restaurants, an average of 63 percent of consumers preferred meals to go, while 36 percent preferred delivered food and 41 percent opted for sit-down meals in a restaurant. As you continue to assess your to-go menu options, consider new consumer preferences and how well your menu can flex to accommodate them. For one, consumers are placing greater focus on their health right now. Older adults who have been in isolation, as well as others concerned about finances or struggling to juggle the demands of work and home life during the pandemic, may have been over-relying on comfort foods. Promoting fresh produce, healthy proteins and high-fiber grains can help generate business as both restaurants and consumers look for ways to get back on track in the coming months. Datassential found, for example, that dishes like vegetarian turmeric-cauliflower and quinoa were popular choices for both to-go and delivery customers. At the same time, it’s wise to continue to cater to groups too, as people reconnect with family and friends this summer but may not yet be comfortable eating in a restaurant. Datassential found that family-style feasts are still getting a lot of support on to-go menus right now, with pizza and pasta dishes, as well as sandwich bundles, being among the most popular choices.
Many operators are reworking their business models right now in an effort to keep business going while people are quarantined. Even restaurants that are providing meals through takeout and delivery are branching out and offering a menu of meal boxes that contain various combinations of seafood, meat, produce and appetizers. This approach can tick a number of boxes (and it is the first item suggested in a recent report from FSR Magazine about tactics restaurants should be implementing right now): Meal boxes allow operators to sell larger packages of food at higher price points and with fewer customer interactions, appeal to couples or families who are quarantined together and crave quality meals, help keep suppliers going in these unstable times, demonstrate a restaurant’s values and brand, and reinforce connections with customers. At the UK-based restaurant Little French, operators are offering boxes full of local fruit and vegetables that promote their support of local suppliers, as well as boxes of various cuts of meat and seafood – along with a recipe – to demonstrate the care they put into the preparation of their menu ingredients. To sweeten the deal, they sell home-baked bread, suggest different bottles of wine that complement each box, and offer other specialty items like olive oil, vinegars, cured meats and olives. For those looking for an interactive cooking experience – or a little help with restaurant-style preparation – the restaurant’s chef will be posting videos of himself preparing dishes that use the ingredients in each box. How can you box up the best parts of your brand to keep business flowing right now?
Now that Uber Eats is testing a “Dine-In” feature on its app, expect other third-party delivery providers to follow suit. The feature allows a person to order food at a restaurant, track the process of its preparation so she can arrive at the restaurant in time to eat it, and also leave a tip. The benefits to restaurants could include having to pay a smaller fee to the delivery provider than would be required for third-party delivery, faster table turnover, and the opportunity to offer deals that could attract dine-in guests during slow periods. It remains to be seen how accurate the app’s food preparation tracker will be at peak periods, but if you’re struggling to fill seats, it might offer an opportunity to entice guests to come in and sit down.
Banning plastic straws is so last month. Around the country and the world, hospitality brands are taking stock of all single-use plastic in their operations, along with other materials that burden the environment, and searching for technology that offers suitable replacements. If you’re looking for models showing how it can be done, examples abound. Take Live Nation, which hosts more than 35,000 events worldwide annually and recently pledged to eliminate single-use plastics at all of its festivals and venues by 2021. The Spoon reports that in addition to eliminating plastic straws, Live Nation will remove plastic food trays, beer cups, water bottles and toiletry bottles, and plans to test plant-based alternatives where possible. This is part of a larger initiative Live Nation has planned to eliminate its landfill waste by 2030.
Delivery has long been more about convenience than taste — it’s hard to make a delivered meal tastier than one served right out of the kitchen, right? Well, that may be changing as operators think more scientifically about food preparation and delivery. The Spoon reports that the fast-casual brand Dig Inn just piloted a delivery-only virtual kitchen called Room Service that rethinks food preparation for delivered foods. In a restaurant, for example, Dig Inn cooks salmon to medium-rare at 115˚F and then serves it immediately. Salmon ordered for delivery via Room Service, however, is plated rare at 105˚F, then paired with a hot potato puree that travels well. Along the route, the puree warms the salmon so the transit time improves the quality of the item when served. It’s food for thought for restaurant operators offering delivery. As ghost kitchens become more prevalent and improve upon the methods long used for delivery, how well do your food preparation plan and food safety program adapt?