Not only has COVID-19 been a crippling public health problem but has also been the biggest obstacle for the restaurant sector till date. The restaurant industry has suffered one of the heaviest blows with significant food cultural shifts, with an expected economic effect of $675 billion in 2020.
Before lockdown, customers defined 'value' mainly in terms of service, atmosphere and taste. Those frequenting casual and fine-dining restaurants expected an unforgettable experience. The lockdown, however, saw customers losing out on a big piece of life – socialization and celebration. This was induced by a change in the food and shopping habits of consumers, driven by human emotions such as fear, stress and boredom. However, the quest for dine-in options, reinforced by search patterns, showed a dip with the rise in COVID-19 cases.
However, the eventual fall in cases and lockdown relaxations reinvigorated the interest of customers. As the economy opens again, restaurants must meet the emerging needs and demands of the customers, with emphasis on health & hygiene, user experience and price standards.
Affordable and reliable delivery/take-out/dine-in rates are among the prime criteria, accompanied by the desire for a pleasurable dining experience. Ingredient freshness not only impacts the quality, but also the overall food experience. Menu innovations will allow consumers continue availing the signature offerings. Speed and efficiency are critical with considerable dependence on food delivery services. Compliance with social distancing norms is the priority of customers, particularly ones who opt for dine-in. “Seeing” a sterile environment is equally important for such customers. There are environmental concerns about the potential around the reliance on disposable cutlery to prevent disease contamination. Packaging that is visibly safe and environmentally conscious has a positive effect on buying decisions. Routine temperature checks are important for making customers feel safe and comfortable. Technologies enabling zero physical contact and routine health monitoring are considered necessary to reduce risk.
However, from a brand perspective, social distancing and hygiene being the top drivers of positive perception, most have not yet done their utmost to meet consumer expectations.