A lot has changed since the pandemic, and though everyday conversations and actions have returned to normal, it’s easy for economists and business owners to point out those differences. During lockdowns and times of restriction, the restaurant industry was heavily impacted, and those effects have been long-lasting. As the restaurant and hospitality industry makes a push for balance, there are unexpected challenges.
Some of these post-COVID changes include new competition—but it’s not what you might think. While there will always be new restaurant concepts, trends in dining, and popular experiences that diners are after, the truth has always been that people go out to eat. But in an age of financial uncertainty, we already know that dining out is on the decline, and that Millennials and Gen Z will reduce their restaurant visits, not lower their experience’s standards. But the other competitors for restaurant visits are surprising.
Recent research shows that one of the newest—and biggest—competitors for restaurants is: home. Since the pandemic, more and more consumers are opting for home dining, not just in an effort to stay healthy or to save money, but simply because that is their preference. Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) reports this as a main take away from the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago this year.
There are many factors that play into this trend shift: familiarity with home cooking after lockdown, for one, or even the slight upward turn in family size in the United States. But the pandemic also reopened cooking to the American family in a way they had been distracted from before COVID, and this renewed zest for at-home meal making has become popular enough to compete with local restaurants. First, COVID introduced a rise in virtual cooking classes, likely initially as something to do, but now an enjoyable, practical pastime for diners. “It allows freedom, flexibility and comfort. You know your own kitchen better than anyone,” says this Integrisok article.
Additionally, meal kit delivery is making cooking at home easier than ever, supplying novice home chefs with interesting recipes, perfectly measured ingredients, and the convenience of to-the-door service so that food prep at home is easy and enjoyable. According to Upper, Inc., more than 19% of Americans have sampled a meal kit delivery service, an industry that now totals more than $5 billion. These numbers include nearly 30% of both Millennial and Gen Z groups, would-be restaurant diners seeking out experiences.
So NRN’s advice is that restaurants have to achieve more to remain attractive. Not only does a dining experience have to be desirable, it has to be more desirable than making a delicious meal at home. The key factor is excellent service, NRN says, making dining out a luxury that stands out from the comfort of an at-home meal. And excellent service starts with happy staff, strong leadership, and a great environment for staff and customers alike.