Zonal’s Glenn Tait looks at whether people will retain an appetite for dining at home once the hospitality sector reopens fully.
Pre-pandemic customers choosing to dine at home would have been considered bad for the industry. With necessity being the mother of invention, however, agile and innovative operators were quick to pivot, meaning meal kits, delivery and click and collect quickly gained consumer attention during the pandemic.
But is dine at home here to stay? And if so, is that good or bad news for operators?
The findings of our recent Plan to Plate report in partnership with KAM Media earlier this year showed that more than a quarter of respondents spent more or the same amount on restaurant/pub meal kits during the pandemic. Separate research from KAM found 9-in-10 consumers want the hospitality brands that they’ve had in their homes during lockdowns to continue offering these ‘at home’ solutions even when restrictions lift. And if they don’t already, about two thirds want their favourite restaurants to start selling ‘cook at home’ meal boxes nationwide.
Appetite for takeaways continues unabated with people remaining hooked on having meals and groceries delivered to their home.
This highlights how consumer behaviour has changed during the course of the pandemic and the lasting effect it will have in the immediate and long term. Our research emphasises that ‘a more relaxed environment’ was the benefit people liked most about staying in – something that, on the face of it, is not great news for hospitality operators.
However, that need not be the case. Looking at the bigger picture, offering food and drink for at-home consumption not only creates a new revenue stream through delivery and click and collect channels, but also deepens relationships with customers and brands, providing further opportunities to capture data, drive loyalty and convert at-home diners to in-venue visits.
Offering delivery and click & collect options allows operators to capture customer data and build a direct relationship with guests, something often missing with third-party delivery companies. Delivery and click & collect bridges that gap between visits and can encourage and incentivise customers to stay engaged with your brand and continue to spend money on at-home experiences.
This continuous engagement at every stage of the customer journey gives operators a deeper understanding of guests’ habits and preferences, which ultimately means more personalised marketing and promotions to attract them back again and again.
Technology can also streamline operations to ensure these new channels do not impact existing standards in-venue and result in greater efficiencies. No need for orders to be taken from one system and input into another, for example, saving staff time and reducing room for error; and controlling the flow and number of orders from multiple channels, in one central place, will help prevent the kitchen from becoming overwhelmed. With menu items being unavailable to order a major bugbear for customers both in-venue and at home, integrated tech helps by using real-time stock levels to update online or in-app menus. With 30% of people saying short wait time is a priority for them when ordering delivery, integrating ordering, EPoS and kitchen management systems can ensure the quickest possible delivery times.
Encourage in-venue visits
Attracting customers back to venues will require greater focus post-pandemic: poor weather, travel time and problems booking are all barriers to visiting. But there is a balance to be had here – using technology and social media to promote food and drink deals and advertise events will become even more important, especially for smaller operators.
This is also where operators can take advantage of the at-home opportunities available to them: a home-delivered tasting menu of new dishes or drinks only available if customers visit might be one way of making the at-home channel work for you. Consumers are increasingly less likely to visit a venue on a whim, as our recent research has highlighted 1 in 3 look up photos of the venue and food prior to visit and are far more likely to book ahead with more than half (51%) saying they are now likely to reserve, so that they know there’s a table available for them.
With this in mind, imagine a home-delivered tasting selection so good that customers just have to make a booking – through a QR code or online or via an app, – to sample the full menu. This example highlights how effective use of technology can offer an enhanced experience, driving consumer engagement and bookings, as well as responding to rapidly changing consumer behaviours.
Technology can create an even more enjoyable hospitality experience for those keen to get back out and socialise; it can help smaller operators reach the in-home enthusiasts who’ll mix the new-found enjoyment with visits to venues, and can help convince those perhaps more cautious in nature to venture out with targeted food and drink offers.
And always be fast and flexible, because the majority of people (61%) will use at least one tool to choose a venue whether that be through social, review sites or your own website, so you must be ready and able to influence their choice.
Get in touch with Zonal today to discover how our connected technology solutions are helping hospitality businesses of all shapes and sizes to understand and enhance their customer journeys, make significant service improvements and exploit new revenue streams.