What started as strategic solutions to challenges presented by the Covid crisis are now becoming integral, everyday components of restaurant operations. Yet two of the most pressing questions operators are facing today are straightforward in nature: How have guest expectations changed? And what does a great restaurant experience look like in post-pandemic times?
Today, it’s whether or not restaurants make a guest feel safe. If a guest went to a restaurant for the first time and had a flawless experience, the statistical likelihood of them returning is roughly 40 percent. The second time they have a flawless experience, it crawls to 42 percent. But the third time, it’s over 70 percent.
Those numbers translate to a Covid world, too. They might even be steeper since there’s less discovery in the decision-making process. People have a smaller rotation of favourite spots, something that stems from a couple of factors. One, trust is where the market-share battle is forged today, as much as anything else. And two, which restaurant is actually open or accessible plays a leading role.
Feeling safe is of utmost importance
If restaurants can understand what their core guests want in a pandemic setting, and deliver on that promise, their road to becoming a ‘go-to’ has a solid good chance of sticking. Familiarity, accessibility and execution are the chips on the table. People want to go out to eat, but they also want to feel safe. And they want to be compelled to do so, whether that comes from value, variety, community, or convenience. The best place to start is with social distancing. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of Covid and according to research, 69 percent of consumers want to see it when they return to in-person dining.
If done right, it can also enhance the customer experience by providing a quieter, more intimate dining environment. Senil Shah, Founder of New York Burrito Company said that customers will focus more on the cleanliness and safety parameters when they come back and the crowd control.
“The thing about food & restaurant industry is that pandemic or no pandemic the cleanliness and safety have to be maintained at the highest standard what has changed is that now the customer has to be made aware of that. Also, crowd control will be important that they feel absolutely safe when they come out to your restaurant/outlet,” he commented.
Keeping the past dining memories alive
The on-premises dining experience was plenty complicated before Covid. What’s really changed now is the prevalence. When a customer comes in for a dine-in, they expect the same experience they have had in the past. Shah further added that restaurants should keep in mind that the brand experience is of paramount importance. Customers will want to come back to the brand they knew before the pandemic, nostalgia will be at an all-time high.
Similarly, a lot of new expectations amongst the diners have popped up. Amit Modi and Priti Modi, Co-owners of Unplugged Courtyard, Kolkata informed that there was a surge in customers willing to sit in the open air space. Many restaurants across the country have already started to experiment with the open spaces available at their premises.
Post opening, creating and training the team on new operating procedures to adhere to state and local guidelines and keep safety and hygiene should be of top priority. Man-power and workforce are very important matters, as is keeping a strict check on their safety routine. Also, one cannot ignore the quality of food for which the guests will come back. Serving fresh is something that needs to be worked on, as stocking higher volumes and releasing them would not help the restaurant, as owners don't know what percentage of sales they would receive or what volume will be sold on that day.
Keeping the guests updated
Moreover, restaurants should ensure that customers are aware of the investments they are making to create a cleaner and safer space. For instance, if staff is vaccinated, or a new air purifier is installed or the number of tables has been reduced for social distancing, restaurants must let their guests know. In a Deloitte survey, 80 percent of people indicated that knowing about a restaurant’s enhanced cleanliness or safety measures would motivate them to dine out more.
“Apart from taking extra efforts to provide them with a warm atmosphere, we would also need to add a bit of empathy to our day-to-day service. This will not only help in comforting the customers but will also help in creating a positive environment. The inclusion of some new and trendy dishes inspired from the past heroics is also not a bad idea,” Chef Niklesh Sharma, Founder of Academy of Pastry & Culinary Arts suggested who has a close experience in the kitchens.
Also, this is the right time to reconnect with the frequent diners. Have access to a guest database with email addresses? Now is the time to reach out and survey the guests to understand their needs and comfort levels going forward. The information one gathers from the surveys can help inform your reopening strategy.
The bottom line is restaurants need to remain flexible and meet guests where they are. It’s their role to facilitate interactions and support how people want to dine, no matter how strange it might seem compared to previous norms.
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