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Challenges in the foodservice industry: what we learned for the future

Restaurant owner with a mask on opening the restaurant's door

Major events force people to reevaluate their habits. Over the last few months, we’ve seen operators rise to the occasion to face unprecedented challenges in the foodservice industry.

While these changes were largely born of necessity, many of them will remain useful long-term. Our experts identified the following approaches as ones you should keep around, even once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.

Putting health and safety first

Health and safety regulations have governed the food industry forever, but the last few months have put these concepts in the spotlight.

From restaurant kitchens to delivery bags, every aspect of the foodservice process was put under the microscope: Which areas do people touch inside the restaurant? Are self-service stations safe? How can we protect delivery drivers, cashiers, servers and consumers?

What can restaurants do to make people feel safe?

In a recent survey, 60% of consumers agreed that a restaurant’s commitment to hygiene and rule enforcement will be more important than before1. Consumer sentiment regarding safety and quality assurances have become important drivers of choice.

Being clear about the distancing, hygiene and safety practices you are putting in place is a great way to earn customers’ trust. Put signage on the front door, share details on social media, then prove that you’re committed to the cause by setting an example.

Being actively involved and transparent with customers

Business owners experienced the power of social media firsthand during lockdown. When times got tough, posting online and reaching out to their communities brought restaurants some much-needed support.

On the consumer side, people flocked to social media for updates on their favourite spots. Millennials and Gen Z were already using Facebook and Instagram to decide where to eat, but experts believe these platforms will become a more widely adopted source of information. Research leads us to believe that habits formed during the lockdown will continue, looking up restaurants on digital channels being one of them2.

The secret ingredient for social media success: creativity

Your social media profiles are places for your restaurant to showcase its personality! From contests to heartwarming videos, and from safety updates to charitable efforts, many restaurant owners highlighted their creativity with their online communications.

The lockdown brought out the type of diverse, engaging content that should be a part of every restaurant’s marketing strategy in the long run. Since delivery and takeout are expected to become a more significant part of the modern dining ecosystem, giving your business an appealing online “storefront” has never been more important. Pro tip: don’t forget to share promotions on social media, people are likely to be more cost-sensitive for a while.

Focusing on a smaller, stronger menu

Many foodservice operators chose to pare down their menus during lockdown, since fewer menu options mean fewer risks and higher profits.

The key to creating a successful streamlined menu is focusing on star dishes without sacrificing diversity (like vegetarian or gluten-free options). As always, quality is also key: if you’re worried about cost, simply use a limited number of high-quality ingredients across multiple dishes so you can make the most of what you have.

Cheese checks all of the necessary boxes, as an ingredient that can provide an interesting, complex touch to your dishes while blending well with different types of cuisine. Take goat cheese, for example, which can be enjoyed from breakfast all the way to dessert! Here are our chefs’ tips:

  • Remove items with lower margins
  • Offer promo bundles: families are eating together more often, and people want deals. Plus, bundles will help you move more product per bill.
  • Don’t overlook side dishes: you want to keep your menu short, but don’t overdo it. Side dishes are often high-margin items that are easy to make.

Diversifying your revenue streams

Our experts predict that the lines between different foodservice channels will be blurred in the future.

For example, many businesses offered alternatives to the traditional restaurant experience while their dining rooms were closed. Since the experiential aspect of dining out is what 79% of consumers missed the most in the last months, these original ideas were more than welcomed3. Meal kits were a popular approach: it was a fun way for consumers to enjoy restaurant food while developing their cooking skills.

This idea could be implemented in your core business model for the long run. If you don’t want to create complete meal kits, you could still package and sell your homemade pasta or pizza sauce, fresh pasta, signature spice mixes, hot sauces, pizza or pastry dough… whatever you do best! The same goes for frozen or pre-cooked dishes like pizza and lasagna, so customers can still enjoy your food at home.

Creativity and resourcefulness helped tons of foodservice operators make it through tough times. Once the industry recovers, it will be important to reflect on what you learned from the last few months, and how your restaurant can evolve in the future. Business models and menus will change and adapt, but one thing is for sure: if you have the right tools and info, everything will be better.

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1 COVID-19 Foodservice Sentiment Study Canada – The NPD Group, Inc. 2020.
2 COVID-19 Foodservice Sentiment Study Canada – The NPD Group, Inc. 2020.
3 COVID-19 Foodservice Sentiment Study Canada – The NPD Group, Inc. 2020.

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