The morning rush looks different now. So do our diets as we rethink our meal, food and nutrition choices. The International Food Information Council says that more than four out of five of us have changed food habits during the pandemic. Food service companies are responding to these changes with new service levels, offerings and formats.
Changes to daily routines, like the morning commute, mean we cook, eat, shop and think differently about food, especially breakfast. We’re shifting from meals to snacks and rethinking when we eat. Brunch has become a big(ger) business. Restaurants have added more — and more interesting — breakfast items to menus and serve them throughout the day. Many places, including traditional morning stops like coffee shops, offer to-go kits filled with pastries, fruit and savory dishes as well as easy-to-eat items like breakfast sandwiches and burritos. They make getting a coffee a special treat and offer creative to-go cocktail kits.
We are what we eat
Diets are bifurcating to either support immunity or provide comfort. Restaurants and retailers have a chance to offer consumers options that are healthy, healthyish or not. They can make it easy for shoppers to find natural, clean labels and ingredients. Some are partnering with local chefs, purveyors and artisans to support the local food ecosystem and feature limited-time offers at a variety of price points and calorie levels. This gives consumers a break from cooking, access to seasonal ingredients and the option to try new items any time of day.
Tech is on the menu
The how and where of getting our food has changed, and new behaviors, such as online ordering, meal kit subscriptions and outdoor dining, will continue. Operators can optimize their physical footprint — or create new formats — with smaller indoor dining areas, more outdoor space, a second drive-thru dedicated to online order pick-up, kiosks for areas where drive-thru doesn’t make sense and new walk-up concepts adjacent to full-service units that offer a subset of the menu. All these options are designed to serve guests, ensure safety, speed digital ordering and improve experience, especially during times when extra quick service is demanded.
The relationships Americans have with food have changed during the pandemic. Many restaurants and foodservice providers have fallen by the wayside. Survivors, by and large, have adapted to this new reality. What will it take to keep up with what’s coming next? That is now and has always been the question.
Discussion Questions: Do you think restaurants and other foodservice providers have adapted well to changes brought about as a result of the pandemic? What products, services, technology or other developments do you think will influence consumers’ use of these businesses in the next several years?
Comments from the RetailWire BrainTrust:
Once the majority of the population are vaccinated, people will return to restaurants in full force, so most companies aren’t interested in spending large dollars to completely reinvent the wheel. I live in Georgia where not only are restaurants at full capacity, but people are so happy to be out they are practically hugging total strangers. Where the smart money should go is on de-risking restaurants for future events, which means investing in elevating the dining experience, investing in staff, and diversifying their services to give customers a range of integrated online and offline options.
DeAnn Campbell, SVP Strategy & Insights, Harbor
In addition to greater technology adoptions and process changes, what has been revealing is the partnering benefits between the public and private sectors. Many communities have adopted variances and closed streets to traffic to encourage foot traffic and expand outdoor dining. Consumers have responded favorably to these changes, and municipalities have enabled small retail establishments to survive and even thrive while supporting the local tax base.
Mohamed Amer, Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
Many (I don’t know if most) restaurants and food service retailers have adapted well to the conditions brought on by the pandemic. The changes that will stick, and even increase are ordering online, improved delivery, and sidewalk/outdoor dining (then we will only be 50 years behind the Europeans and Latin Americans in that category). Behind every cloud, there is a silver lining.
Bob Amster, Principal, Retail Technology Group
I am not entirely convinced about smaller indoor dining areas. In Arizona, restaurants are open at full capacity and most full-service ones are busy both inside and out! People are, and increasingly will, get back to dining out. However, other structural changes make sense: dedicated areas for order collection, curbside services, better drive-thru facilities in quick service restaurants, and so forth will all support trends that are likely to persist.
Neil Saunders, Managing Director, GlobalData
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