The world changed for good and bad over the last two years, impacting consumer trends like never before. The COVID-19 pandemic affected us all and we adjusted. Consumers now behave, spend and shop differently and it’s imperative for the restaurant industry to adapt to these new trends. Consumers continue to shift their actions, which can differ and sometimes conflict. It’s a restaurant’s job to turn these consumer trends into actionable items that grow sales and create value for consumers. 

Resilience and adaptability are the driving forces behind the top global consumer trends in 2021. The pandemic accelerated each of the seven consumer trends broken down below, forever altering consumer behaviour. Here’s what your restaurant can do to adapt and continue to create a consumer-focused dining experience, both in-store and at home.

2021 Consumer Trends and Insights

1. Build Back Better

Now more than ever, consumers are demanding that restaurants care beyond revenue. Importantly, protecting the health and interest of society and the planet is the new expectation following COVID-19. Restaurants should help reshape the world in a more sustainable way, leading to a shift from a volume to a value-driven economy. Although investing in sustainable products may be more costly in the short-term, it will create long-term value for your restaurant and customers alike. This can only positively impact your brand image. Make sure that you’re implementing a genuine sustainable strategy so as to avoid any Greenwashing accusations or PR scandals.

According to Accenture, 48.9% of consumers are looking for brands that provide sustainable packaging and 64.3% of consumers want to reduce their plastic use. Restaurants that rebuild a greener and more equitable world could gain a competitive advantage. If you haven’t yet, make sure your restaurant invests in sustainable packaging, especially when it comes to containers and cutlery. A further step that can be taken is to invest in energy-efficient equipment and source your produce from local suppliers. Start small and set goals – even if you’re not there yet, you can set yourself up for success in the future!

2. Craving Convenience

Restaurants are under pressure to adapt their operations and develop a resilient customer experience while maintaining the convenience and service traditional restaurants offer. Consumers rarely have impulse purchase opportunities and have significantly decreased their spontaneous walk-ins since the start of the pandemic. Today more than ever, consumers are craving convenience and relying on digital channels to obtain flexibility.

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to get your restaurant into the world of digital commerce through third-party delivery services. Digital commerce provides a seamless experience for consumers without the traditional in-person component. If younger consumers are within your demographic, it is essential to start digitalizing your service. Check this out to learn how to list your restaurant on third-party delivery services in Canada. However, it is important to keep in mind that 68% of consumers over the age of 60 prefer human interactions. Find the right balance between digital and human for your restaurant and capitalize on the opportunity to create convenience.

3. Outdoor Oasis

With many corporate businesses planning to offer their employees remote work opportunities post-pandemic, giving your trapped consumers an escape could be a driving factor for your restaurant sales. As consumers are looking for an outdoor escape to support their physical and mental wellbeing, your restaurant can leverage this insight to increase foot traffic. 

Consumers Look for Patios as Getaway

Restaurants need to create their own Outdoor Oasis. The best way to capitalize on this trend is to look into opening a patio or outdoor seating area. Adaptation might become more costly and complicated depending on the weather. However, open-air structures will pay off as they are proven to attract customers. Make sure to check your province’s respective restrictions and regulations to obtain the appropriate permits before launching your patio. And if you are in Canada like us, equip yourself with heaters to keep your oasis cozy in the colder months. For all our BC located restaurants, make sure to check-out the Temporary Expedited Patio Program (TEPP) and apply for a free permit to set-up your temporary patio.

4. Physical Digital Reality

Integrating virtual processes into brick and mortar locations is imperative to ensure customers feel safe returning to physical spaces. Today, consumers rely on digital tools to conduct and engage in daily activities both at home and away. Whether that be through through social media channels or virtual in-store experiences, making sure to keep up with these digital trends can be vital in understanding your consumers’ wants and needs.

Adopting mobile reservation systems, QR codes for touchless menus, and contactless payments are strategies restaurants are taking to minimize human interactions and maximize consumer comfort. If possible, look into developing an app to facilitate on-site experiences for your consumers. You can develop a loyalty program to reward your consumers through the app and encourage them to make regular purchases. Incorporating this Physical Digital Reality will continue driving sales and assist with data collection, both online and in the restaurant.

5. Safety Obsessed

Even though restrictions are easing all over Canada, many consumers are still safety-obsessed. The pandemic has created a new normal where contactless solutions are sought out as consumers seek to avoid exposure. Safety and health will continue to be at the forefront of consumer behaviour, even in a post-pandemic setting. 

Leverage your social media channels and websites to update your consumers on the precautions you’re taking to keep them safe. This will help with maintaining a top-of-mind awareness. Similarly, associating your brand with sanitation can be a driving factor in increased foot traffic. A safe and trusted brand image will be an intangible asset. The additional incurred costs of purchasing hygienic products are significantly outweighed by the benefit of prioritizing your customers’ healthy and safety. So go ahead and develop robust hygiene initiatives, and communicate these benefits to your consumers to attract them to your restaurant.

6. Workplaces in New Spaces

Workplaces in new spaces had a rippling effect on consumer life, from technology to eating spend and beyond. Therefore, understanding the benefits and challenges of working remotely allows restaurants to bring the best of the office to home. Loss of commutes and out-of-home offices limit on-the-go occasions, such as grabbing coffee, taking lunch breaks, or even socializing at a restaurant with colleagues after work. 

The New Normal – Working From Home

Restaurants that thrive on office footfall will need to adjust their operations away from densely populated cities and focus on suburban locations. This is especially relevant as hybrid and flexible work models are starting to become a default for many global companies. It might be time for your restaurant to look into opening a ghost kitchen. With lower costs than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants, accessibility to consumers at home, and a focus on pick-up and delivery, this might be the perfect next step for your business.

7. Newfound Flexibility

Consumers are now able to be more creative with their time to get everything done. Restaurants should provide solutions that address consumer desires to maximize time, offering increased flexibility, especially with products and services that can be accessed from or near the home.

Developing a 24-hour service culture allows restaurants to tailor and provide offerings around consumers’ schedules. However, shifting operating hours to a 24-hour model can be costly for a restaurant and challenging to execute. Quick-service restaurants are more likely to benefit from this recommendation, as consumers prefer on-the-go food in non-traditional restaurant hours. It is highly recommended that each restaurant analyses their own costs versus benefits for developing a 24-hour service culture, as it may not be appropriate for all.

Brick and mortar restaurant locations should also evolve. Canadian consumers are taking public transport less and staying within a 15-minute radius of their home, which decreased footfall in city centers. Foodservice operators must reimagine their physical outlets, using spaces for online order fulfillment and pick-up services in response. If your current restaurant location is not optimized for order and pick-up fulfillment, investing in a NextGen Kitchens white-mobile app software may be the next step for your restaurant or ghost kitchen business. Learn more here!

Wrapping It Up

Restaurants should offer value-added products and services to accommodate consumers, providing affordable solutions. Now more than ever, brick-and-mortar restaurants must reimagine their physical spaces to both accommodate online order fulfillment and incorporate open-air components to bring consumers back safely. 

Technologies are driving customer experiences and facilitating human connections. For example, cashless payments and click-and-collect services are allowing restaurants to generate revenue while providing the safety and convenience consumers seek.

Flexibility, agility, transparency, and technology will pave the way forward. Take these consumer insights into consideration and see how you can adapt your restaurant’s model to best meet these needs without letting go of your brand value.

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