And So it Begins: COVID-19 Webinar #5 Recap

By Mark Brandau

Now that we’re in our fifth week of reporting on our consumer COVID-19 research, many restaurants are beginning to explore re-opening. After many weeks of the crisis, we may start seeing some sort of return to normalcy over the next few months. In fact, the dam is starting to burst now. The question is, as restaurants start to re-open, will staff be ready on time?

 

Fancy a furlough?

Before the coronavirus crisis, roughly 66% of American adults were employed. As a result of the pandemic, 18% of adults have been laid off or furloughed. With $600 per week in additional relief on top of unemployment benefits, returning to work right now might mean losing out on money for many.

If those who were laid off or furloughed were offered their job back today, nearly half would wait for unemployment to run out. If you’re an operator, you need to consider a potential disinterest in returning to work from your employees. As a supplier, explore ways you can support your operators and help them run leaner during these times.

 

covid-19 restaurant reopenings

 

The human condition

We asked consumers what they were most looking forward to about returning to restaurants and relaxing topped out the list. After months of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, your patrons are just looking to sit down and breathe for a second. Boomers are especially interested in being able to relax as they associate it with the “normalcy” of before. While you may be dealing with increased regulations and new rules, explore how you can create an environment that promotes relaxation.

After spending weeks at home with the same people and the same Netflix originals to stream, Gen Z consumers are more interested in feeling emotions like curiosity and inspiration when they return to restaurants.

Even though the coronavirus crisis is a very human story, it’s incredibly divisive as well. People on either side of the political spectrum have widely differing opinions. People do want to support restaurants and their community, which is great. However, most patrons don’t trust each other. In fact, 72% are more worried about other consumers than of your restaurant’s staff.

You might feel like you’re making huge strides by implementing sneeze guards and other barriers that separate your staff from patrons, but you also need to consider other touchpoints and areas of interaction. What happens if there’s a line to the bathroom? It’s likely these concerns will diminish over time as new behaviors are normalized, but it’s important to have a plan for how you’re easing consumer concerns.

 

Post-COVID cravings

As we prepare to head into restaurants again, what are consumers most looking forward to? 68% of consumers say indulgence over healthiness. People are going for familiar favorites 80% of the time. While consumers might have paid a little more attention to health foods boosting their immune system during quarantine, now that the opportunity is there, most just want that old favorite they’re used to.

We anticipate the sequence of patrons’ return visits to go something like this:

  1. “I already know what I want, so just serve up my favorites.”
  2. “Still sticking with my tried and true dishes.”
  3. “Maybe I’ll mix it up with a different appetizer.”
  4. “I’m starting to feel more adventurous.”
  5. “What do you have for a trendy foodie like me?”

Just because it might be what you’re selling out of the first week, don’t get lulled into thinking consumers just want a surplus of meatloaf and mac and cheese. As they continue to return, patrons will eventually want something new. It’s crucial to keep your innovation pipeline fresh for this reason.

 

covid-19 restaurant reopenings

 

Get social on social

Right now, it’s incredibly important to get the information out about what you’re doing because every restaurant is doing something differently. Use social networks like Facebook and Instagram to share updates about operations.

Thinking about making a sign to hang on your window? Consider the look of something scribbled in Sharpie compared to well-designed, professional signage. As an operator, having professional signage will put consumers at ease. You don’t want it to feel like you’re just whipping these new policies up. It should be evident you put a lot of thought into your decisions to keep patrons as safe as possible, and branded signage is an excellent way to do that.

As a supplier, consider what your operators are working through right now. Purchasing lots of new equipment like sneeze guards for safety is expensive. Could you partner with your customers to create signage for their storefront to communicate operational changes? Even offering supplemental market development funds (MDF) can be a great way to engage customers right now.

 

What’s next?

As states across the country decide to re-open over the next few weeks it will be interesting to see how consumers react and what behavioral changes the industry will see. Be sure to check out our Coronavirus resources page to stay up-to-date on all our findings and don’t forget to join us for our weekly COVID webinars!