4 Ways To Prepare for Predicted Springtime Traffic Increases

A waitress wearing a mask serving patrons outside

This article was written by Corey Chao and originally appeared in Fast Casual. Learn more about 2021 trends for restaurants in Square’s Future of Restaurants Report.

There’s no denying that 2020 was the year that restaurants had to continuously adapt and evolve due to the pandemic, from dine-in shutdowns and delivery and curbside pickup increases to reduced-capacity reopenings. Although it has been a difficult year for the industry, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once a vaccine is introduced to the public in 2021, the restaurant industry will enter a third phase of navigating business post-COVID — this time with patrons eager to resume dining out once the risk is reduced while managing the here-to-stay demand of off-premises deliveries and pickups. But just because on-premises dining will resume doesn’t mean it’s going back to what we have known as “normal.” Here’s how to prepare your fast-casual restaurant for success when the industry booms in the spring.

Safety and community support are crucial

It goes without saying that the goal of fast-casual restaurants will be to put their customers’ minds at ease when dining out again. That means your sanitation precautions should remain in the spotlight even post-vaccine. You won’t need overly harsh restrictions, but you want to ensure your customers’ safety at all times. Although we will return to a more familiar form of fast-casual dining, it will be helpful (and expected) to keep safety measures in place through spring.

In addition to safety, customers are thinking more about community as a result of the past year. Communities came together during the worst of the pandemic, and have changed the way businesses interact with each other. Customers want to give their hard-earned money to business owners that care about a larger cause. You might try teaming up with other businesses in your area to show your community that you have their backs through good times and bad. Some ideas include:

  • Join other restaurants to create a local restaurant dining program: Charge patrons a small fee for a punch card that offers them a discount or freebie at participating local restaurants to encourage them to dine out.

  • Offer fundraising programs for local sports teams, churches, or organizations looking to raise money for their business post-COVID.

  • Attend local fairs, concerts, or events as a pop-up booth or food truck to increase sales and show patrons that your business is as strong as ever and ready for a new season.

Prep your restaurant layout and menu

With a deployed vaccine and dine-in capability restored, restaurants will benefit from the technology upgrades they are making or have already made. The pandemic has fast-tracked restaurant tech advancements, ranging from menus available via QR code to ordering kiosks to the use of tablets for line-busting ordering and payment, particularly in outdoor seating areas.

Ordering options have expanded via website and mobile apps as well as newer additions such as text ordering. With a variety of options in the palm of customers’ hands, these digital ordering solutions will stay, as will upgrades to facilitate delivery options. You can be assured that your tech investments won’t go to waste. In fact, they will help streamline operations as demands increase for dine-in, takeout, and delivery.

Aside from tech solutions, another modification that will stay is adjustments to your dine-in layout. Part of making your customers feel safe will be to continue respecting previous social distancing recommendations. This practice will remind guests that their safety is your top priority even when the virus is no longer a large risk. And although you will be allowed to seat more customers indoors than before, it’s smart to consider outdoor dining to keep up with high customer demand, reinforce social distancing, and maximize your capacity. You can expect patrons to dine on-premises significantly more, especially after enduring the winter months of continued takeout and delivery. Configuring your restaurant footprint to keep up with the demands of your business will play a large role in your success.

Another factor of your spring preparation is your menu. For the last year, restaurants had to limit options or get creative with offerings in order to keep their doors open by providing curbside pickup or delivery. When re-establishing your dine-in menu, it’s a good time to reevaluate what you offer. Create a competitive analysis to find what customers are looking for in this new season. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my top sellers? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Gather insights on your menu items to see what has sold the most and least. A good restaurant management system (RMS) will generate this data for you.

  • Are there popular food trends right now? Is there a new food trend taking over the industry that you can implement in your menu? Now’s the time to try new ideas.

  • What are my competitors doing? There’s no shame in doing your research. Find out what’s working for similar fast-casual restaurants to see what insights you can bring to your business.

Train your team to adapt

It’s no secret that employees have had to learn and relearn new ways of working efficiently while cutting costs for their fast-casual restaurant. There are a few changes that won’t be going away even after a vaccine is introduced. You’ll want to keep these practices incorporated into your employee training:

  • No contact remains relevant: The technology investments you made to provide no-contact delivery will help with in-house dining as well. Even post-pandemic, contactless menus using QR codes and contactless payments like a tablet POS will be pertinent to your patrons whether they’re dining indoors or out on your patio. Your investments in digital signage will provide a strong ROI for customers returning to dine in your restaurant.

  • Consider convenience: There will be many customers eager to dine on-premises again, but you will have just as many, if not more, customers still interested in delivery and curbside pickup, simply for convenience. This option will help with dining demands in your restaurant, but it means that you need additional support with delivery drivers and staff to prepare orders.

  • Text-savvy staff: A good RMS allows customers to order quickly through online ordering, a mobile app, or — a newer option — text ordering. For customers who aren’t app savvy or don’t want a bunch of them on their phone, they can simply text their order with ease. This option opens up the market even more, because if you can text, you can order a meal.

Let technology ease the burden

Although we have witnessed the superhuman powers of restaurant owners this last year, it’s not practical to keep carrying the load once a vaccine is introduced. Although on-premises dining will be changed forever, restaurant owners can equip themselves with the tools and knowledge they gained during the pandemic to foster success. For increased productivity, efficiency, and customer loyalty, implementing innovative technology is the best move for your fast-casual restaurant.

The most successful restaurants will thrive knowing that they can operate at full capacity inside while continuing to fulfill orders that are delivered or picked up. Investing in an all-in-one system that integrates all on- and off-premises ordering channels for your eatery will prepare your team for the increased demand of guests who will be excited to safely support your restaurant. It will help you maximize the guest experience to drive repeat business for years to come.

Copyright Networld Media Group DBA Networld Alliance, LLC Feb 5, 2021

This article was written by Corey Chao from Fast Casual and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.