For the consumer, Covid mostly feels, indirectly, over. But business owners and restauranteurs understand the long-term effects of the pandemic, and how those consequences are playing out in the current economic situation.
While regulations have long been lifted and restaurant business operate at a pre-pandemic standard, the numbers around dining are still not leveling out and certainly differ from projections before Covid.
Some of it is to be expected, as in off-site dining and food delivery services. During lockdown, those services reached historic levels and became the only revenue source for many restaurant businesses. “From April until December of 2020, off-premises dining accounted for 44% of all sales. As a result, an ancillary option became an essential part of business,” states this Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) article. With a return to in-person dining, those numbers have been on the steady decline—but they’re not gone entirely. Lockdown food delivery and off-site dining set a precedent for carryout moving forward. Of course, as could be expected, the new precedent isn’t the dominating mainstay and restaurants are seeing a dip in their off-premises services. NRN writes, “according to data from Market Intelligence by GuestXM, even April and May were down 7.9% and 7.6% respectively for full service. Both delivery and to-go channels are down in 2023 year to date (YTD) for full service.”
However, despite the instability of these once relied upon services and a shifting economy, the restaurant industry experienced growth this past spring. Experts are crediting, not necessarily an influx of customers, rather a higher value customer as the reason. “Average guest check growth has been moderating in recent months, largely due to menu price increases decelerating this year. Average check grew by +5.8% year over year during May, up modestly from 5.2% the previous month but significantly lower than the average 8% for the last three months of 2022.” While this is, in part, due to increased costs and supply chain issues across industries and products, it also marks the returned importance of on-premises dining for restaurant goers. They are willing to show up and increase the ticket price for a positive experience of dining on-site.
All that post-pandemic data really shows us is that the economy is still settling, a lingering effect of both lockdown and other related consequences. But as diners return looking for familiar and worthy experiences, even in financial uncertainty, it is this, that restaurant owner-operators should focus on. Customers are looking for experiences—and they will share these experiences. If the world was keen on social media pre-pandemic, it became a necessity during Covid, and now the norm for information sharing. Consumers will document their real-time experiences and opinions of products, menus, aesthetics—and this shared information is increasingly becoming make-or-break for restaurants. Reviews matter! “Restaurants that improved their average star rating saw their traffic increase by 3% over three years, while those with a negative change had a 1-point decrease in traffic,” reports NRN.
Richard Weil, owner and principal of National Restaurant Consultants, challenges operators to, “Take the time to greet your guest from the parking lot in. Appease their senses with the look, sound, and feel of your establishment from the second the guest walks through your doors to be sure you meet and exceed the guests’ expectations. Make memorable experiences.”
The restaurant industry in a 2023 world is still evolving. Needs, data, challenges can all change quickly, and restaurant owner-operators must keep the temperature of the industry to be successful. Our restaurant consultants are well-versed in market trends and have years of experience to compare current trends to historical data. We can help your restaurant stay on top in an age of uncertainty.