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The Pandemic Forever Changed Off-Premise Dining — Now What?

While the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 meant new regulations and new realities for restaurateurs of all types, the industry was already changing — fast! Online ordering and delivery have increased more than 300% since 2014, and most restaurant owners recognize off-premise dining as one of the industry’s best opportunities for growth.

COVID-19 forced restaurants to focus on their off-premise operations more than ever before. Many consumers have made the shift to dining via carryout, delivery and curbside pickup, a trend that continues even as dining rooms have reopened. Staffing shortages, supply chain issues and continued uncertainty have many restaurants ready to embrace off-premise operations even in a post-pandemic world.

COVID-19 dealt the restaurant industry a major blow — but it also taught restaurant owners valuable lessons that could influence restaurant operations for years to come. Above all else, restaurants are learning that they’ll need to explore different options to meet new and existing customers wherever they’re at if they want to make the sale.

Here are a few cool ways restaurants across the country are embracing the shift to off-premise dining and using innovation and technology to maximize profits.

Ghost kitchens and virtual brands

Because delivery has grown to such prominence in recent years, finding ways to get in front of as many hungry customers scrolling the apps for a good meal as possible has been top of mind for many restaurateurs. 

Ghost kitchens and virtual brands have taken hold as delivery-friendly concepts that appear to be sticking around long after the last pandemic restrictions are lifted. As restaurants respond to changing consumer preferences, dine-in operations may choose to “go ghost” or create a delivery-only virtual brand in order to minimize overhead costs while creating incremental sales using their existing kitchen and staff. For restaurants looking to expand into new markets or new concepts, these setups can help kick things off without a huge capital investment.

Off-premise experience

These days, a customer’s restaurant experience often begins once they leave the restaurant, drive-thru or curbside pickup spot, or when the delivery guy rings the doorbell. Many restaurants are putting greater emphasis on how customers enjoy their food at home. This can include using creative packaging, offering menu item bundles at different price points for consumers who want to order food for multiple meals at home, or providing detailed reheating instructions for this multi-meal ordering. 

Research clearly suggests that customers have some new post-pandemic priorities, and restaurants will not simply be able to go back to business as usual. Here are a few other post-pandemic trends (both on- and off-premise) we’ll be keeping an eye on in 2022:

  • Shrinking restaurant footprints and layouts optimized for delivery/takeout service.
  • Simpler menus with a focus on zero-waste for the climate-conscious. 
  • Growing use of contactless payment (ie. tap-to-pay credit cards, mobile wallets, etc.) and contactless ordering (ie. QR codes, text-to-order) options.
  • Continued demand for a well-optimized online platform that integrates seamlessly with your POS system, which makes life easier for you, your staff and your customers!
  • Restaurant order throttling that allows efficient management of on- and off-premise orders.

Instead of looking at the shift in focus to off-premise options as merely a pandemic necessity, restaurants should embrace the disruption to business as usual as an opportunity to adopt new strategies and explore virtual innovation. The reality is that these are industry trends that aren’t going away anytime soon.

As your trusted hospitality technology consultant, DCRS is here to help you navigate this new and exciting space, and find the right tools to help you take your restaurant to the next level. Contact us today to get started!