When we talk about optimizing the guest experience for tomorrow, it can be insightful to look at the experience of yesterday. Looking back to 2008, chefs from top restaurants were being laid off during the recession and few places were hiring, so there was a rise in an influx of motivated talent ready for their next opportunity. If chefs weren’t finding homes in restaurants anymore, where could they create and experiment? The streets.
The proliferation of mobile food trucks was spurred not only by wayward culinary talent but also by the massive growth of tracking them on emerging social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Now, restaurants and food trucks are no longer divorced from one another.
So what will be the long-reaching effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry? How can we cut through the noise and create that convenient, frictionless experience that the customer of today and tomorrow is requesting?
Mobile ordering has become the mark of a great omnichannel. Ordering ahead via mobile app reduces bottlenecks in the drive-thru lane or at the counter. However, with this multitude of customer journeys, we need to make sure that it is clear where the guest is supposed to go to pick-up their food. It’s also important to consider that customers are more likely to pick-up their order from the restaurant than to opt for delivery.
Organic, mixed-tech experiences will prevail. For instance, a customer that orders and pays ahead on their phone through the app will walk into the restaurant and happily pick up their order located on simple, organized shelving. It’s our job to make sure that the path is clear, the signage is concise and the experience feels on-brand to ensure that customer comes back again soon.
I definitely foresee a decrease in square footage that is directly linked to the single purpose of dining in. That being said, with more businesses and workers going remote, I believe that we will start to see more brand partnerships and mixed-use spaces that can accommodate work meetings and collaboration sessions, community event spaces and even permanent retail, and goods purveyors.
Lockdowns and physical-distancing requirements early on in the pandemic gave the category an enormous boost, with delivery becoming a lifeline for the hurting restaurant industry. Unfortunately, third-party delivery apps, while necessary for many months at the beginning of the pandemic, are killing our restaurants now.
Though the delivery journey is similar to the previous goals I discussed with mobile order ahead, there are specific considerations to be paid to delivery drivers. We must ensure that there is adequate parking for bicycles in urban locations to protect the transportation means of drivers. Additionally, it is imperative that the pathway for delivery people allows for enough clearance to accommodate their bags and we have lay space that enables them to pack the items carefully.
Delivery is not going away, however, along with the recent transparency in cost for restaurants along with subpar current delivery experiences (cold food, a reported 30 percent of drivers snacking on your food…), I can see autonomous delivery becoming the next frontier.
We have developed an emotional bond with the outdoors. Eating outdoors was equated with safety for 18 months, and that habit is now deeply ingrained. For our clients in colder climates, we have been asked to explore opportunities for fresh air circulation that would not have been previously considered, such as overscale, operable skylight and truss systems or large, flexible window wall systems that can be operated for three seasons.
In step with the roaring the nineteen twenties, I believe that entertainment concepts will trend toward an escapist experience. Dining out will take on a whole new meaning: either figuratively where avant-garde environments feel like a mini-adventure or a new concept of entertainment, theatrical or engaging, developing new opportunities for a night out that includes food and fun.
As we consider the lessons learned from the pandemic, we must always be questioning what comes next. How can we take convenience, loyalty and experience to that next level and ensure that the restaurant industry will always be ready to weather that next storm?