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By Katherine Pendrill
Restaurateurs around the globe have shown incredible resilience over the past two years. Now, brighter days lie ahead. The world has entered a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public health restrictions have been lifted, and people are excited to dine out again. The restaurant recovery has begun.
As a restaurateur, it’s time to prepare for an industry comeback so you’ll be ready when the crowds start to return. In this guide to the restaurant renaissance, we’ll cover:
If you’ve been waiting for a sign that the restaurant industry is poised for a comeback, this is it. In fact, we’ve got three signs of a positive restaurant industry forecast to share.
Americans’ level of comfort with dining at restaurants has been rising steadily since May 2020 when decision intelligence company Morning Consult started tracking this data. As of May 2022, 75% of over 2,000 American adults surveyed say they’re comfortable visiting a restaurant or cafe. This number represents a 14% increase since January. For context, less than 25% of Americans were comfortable dining out in May 2020.
“Since Morning Consult began tracking comfort levels in spring 2020, Americans have consistently said the activity they are more comfortable with is dining out,” reports the company.
There’s even more good news just in time for patio season: 82% of Americans say they’re comfortable with outdoor dining. Get your umbrellas ready!
Is your staff break room starting to feel busy again? Congratulations! You’re not alone, either. As of May 2022, restaurants across the U.S. employ nearly 11.6 million workers, compared to approximately 10.4 million this time last year.
“Food services and drinking places added 43,800 jobs in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making [the industry] among the top job creators for the month,” reports Restaurant Business.
While pre-pandemic restaurant employment in the country sat around 12 million, it dropped to between just six and seven million in April 2020. Things are looking up, indeed.
Yes, you read that right. The National Restaurant Association’s restaurant industry forecast estimates that sales will reach $898 billion in 2022, which is nearly $35 billion higher than sales in 2019. While this is partly due to price increases on menu items, it’s still good news.
“Restaurant recovery continues on a year-over-year basis, especially compared to last year,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor, in a press release.
Although restaurant foot traffic is on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic, online ordering continues to be a popular option for customers. In 2021, digital orders increased by 13% over the previous year.
Now that we’ve offered up a serving of optimism, it’s time to get down to business. As a restaurateur, you have a golden opportunity this year to make a comeback that will get your team and guests even more excited than a free dessert on their birthday. Let’s figure out how to make the magic happen!
As much as we all wish it was the case, the pandemic isn’t over yet. You and your restaurant staff have worked hard over the past two years to ensure a safe dining environment for your guests. This first step to your restaurant recovery is simple: all you have to do is keep up the good work you’re already doing.
Everyone’s tired after a long two years, and it can be tempting to want life to return to the way it was before, but we can make the best of the new normal. So, be sure you’re still taking some precautions, such as sanitizing, to make your restaurant as safe and comfortable as possible for your guests. They’ll appreciate the extra effort.
According to the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index published in April 2022, “only a third of Americans (33%) say returning to pre-pandemic life is a large or moderate risk right now, down from 56% in early February.”
While this research is positive, it shows that a portion of the population is still concerned about the public health dangers posed by the pandemic. You can play a role in helping this segment of your customers feel comfortable dining with you, relaxing, and having a good time.
Who doesn’t love a patio session? While outdoor dining has long been a cultural mainstay in many countries, it has seen a huge spike in popularity during the pandemic. As a result, many venues have gotten creative with their restaurant patios, enlarging the spaces or adding heaters to accommodate guests for a greater portion of the year.
In preparation for the restaurant comeback, depending on where you’re located, you can and should take advantage of looser outdoor dining restrictions that let you expand your seating capacity. For example, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, the city is allowing restaurateurs to expand their patios onto the downtown streets for the third summer in a row, reports the StarTribune.
“This almost doubles our seating,” Jerrick Haws, General Manager at 7 West TapHouse (which has a dog-friendly patio) told the newspaper. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like to sit outside.”
There’s so much you can do with an outdoor dining space, ranging from live music to barbecues to simply admiring a string of twinkly lights. Make your patio the place to be this summer as part of the restaurant renaissance.
As we’ve discussed, hiring is currently on an upswing in the restaurant industry. This makes sense because you’ll likely need more employees to serve the bigger crowds headed your way. While this is a good problem to have, it can be a tricky one to solve due to the industry’s ongoing staffing shortage. In fact, four in five restaurant operators say they’re short at least one position, according to the 2022 Restaurant Labor Report published by TouchBistro and 7shifts.
Investing in recruitment, as well as retention, is a wise move to help you staff up for the restaurant recovery – and make sure things stay that way. So, don’t wait until it’s crunch time. Make changes to your recruitment and retention practices early on to hire more employees and keep your existing team members happy. This is especially important considering that the average cost of training a new employee is $3,178.
Before the pandemic, 61% of operators offered higher wages to stay competitive and fight turnover, according to TouchBistro data. Now, with less revenue coming in, providing benefits is the industry’s top retention strategy.
Things have also changed when it comes to hiring. Social media is now the top way restaurants recruit new staff, as opposed to the pre-pandemic go-to strategies of referrals and networking. With all of this in mind, try to be open to new approaches to build and maintain a strong team.
Marketing is essential to ensuring your restaurant is top of mind when consumers start dining out again. If it’s been a while since you’ve thought about your restaurant marketing strategies, they’re likely due for an update.
“According to one survey, 77% of consumers will visit a restaurant’s website before dining in or taking out food. This same study found that 30% of diners are turned off by a…website that looks outdated,” reports Zippia.
So, make sure your website and social media channels are up to date with your current hours, specials, and events. Don’t forget to make sure your address and hours are correct on Google, too. Take your marketing efforts one step further, and get active on social media. The visual mediums of Instagram and TikTok in particular are great places to showcase your culinary creations and connect with guests by posting photo and video content.
It’s also helpful to have technology on your side to help with marketing. With a platform like TouchBistro Marketing, you can put your restaurant marketing on autopilot. The POS-integrated marketing platform connects your restaurant with guests and helps to drive repeat visits.
You don’t want to be training your employees on a new system during the height of patio season. Just the thought of it is stressful! That’s why it’s best to invest in new tech before the restaurant comeback gets hectic.
Not sure exactly what you need? It’s important to consider solutions that will help you handle a greater influx of diners as your venue gets busier over the coming months. For example, restaurant reservation software can help you manage seatings, while loyalty software can increase repeat business. You’ll likely also want to look at staffing software to coordinate your growing team’s schedule.
Not only does investing in new tech make your life easier as a restaurateur, it’s also what today’s diners prefer. Nearly 80% of consumers say technology helps improve their restaurant experience, according to Zippia.
Consumers have adopted new habits during the pandemic – one major trend being takeout and delivery orders. It’s likely that some people will never go back to in-person dining. So, how do you ensure you’re serving all of your customers, whether in your dining room or theirs?
A key tip is to streamline your takeout operations to make sure they function efficiently, even when you’re serving a full dining room of guests. One way to do this is by integrating your POS with your online ordering system so everything is in one place.
Online ordering is the way of the future – except the future is here now. Research from our 2022 State of Restaurants Report shows that nearly three in five restaurants started using online ordering or added additional ordering platforms after the pandemic started. Today, 95% of restaurants report using at least one online ordering platform. The cherry on top? Almost half of the restaurants report that customers spend up to 20% more on online orders on average.
At this stage in the pandemic, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. We’ve now covered three signs that point to a restaurant comeback, and six ways to set yourself up for a successful restaurant recovery. Let the renaissance begin!
Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.
By Debra Weinryb
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