Consumer behavior is rapidly changing. While some of these changes are temporary, some shifts will likely stay long term. As we reopen the national economy after the pandemic, I expect competition for consumer awareness and patronage will increase — especially for the F&B industry.
Shopping, eating, working, entertaining and socializing are all available virtually. Indeed, why go out anymore? Why should customers decide to leave their safe cocoons and visit your business? How can you make your business stand out in a crowded segment? How can you highlight your business’s unique proposition?
Restaurants Face Increasing Pace of Change
According to 2020 research from the National Restaurant Association, there are roughly 1 million restaurant locations in the U.S. The same study documents that 63% of consumers “would rather spend money on an experience such as a restaurant or other activity, compared to purchasing an item from a store.”
Based on a McKinsey article on changing consumer behaviors during the pandemic, “Many of the trends are accelerations of past behaviors.” For example, last year, online delivery achieved gains in eight weeks that otherwise might have taken 10 years. Remote working, online entertainment and use of telemedicine also increased dramatically in response to the pandemic.
Despite these behavioral changes, the desire for fresh food remains extremely high. The demand for hygiene, safety and health is increasing. In the Future of Fresh study, Deloitte highlights that in addition to the focus on fresh, “safety” now ties price in terms of importance on purchasing decisions. The study found this included “safety for self, others, and the workers who produce food, as well as safety in terms of packaging to prevent contamination — each of these drivers scored 85% or higher in importance to consumers.”
Where Should We Go?
This phrase, or something similar, was a frequent discussion topic on any given Friday or Saturday night before the pandemic. When states open up after the pandemic, it’s likely a discussion we’ll hear again soon — and maybe even more often.
But right now, many stay home. We can order products online, have groceries home-delivered, stream nearly infinite amounts of media content, go to school or visit doctors virtually, and even order all our meals for delivery. These meals range from the most basic takeout options to Michelin-rated restaurants. With recent developments in communication and social media apps, we can even socialize from home.
An F&B business manager has two imperatives: First, give the clientele a reason to leave their homes, and second, give them a reason to come to the business — once it’s safe to do so, of course.
Can You Offer a Memorable and Mentionable Experience?
After the pandemic, what experience can you offer the consumer that they will remember, come back for and even mention to other people?
We all have our own personal experiences with food and beverage, and many of our fondest memories are food-related. Some are linked to family events, religious celebrations, vacation travels or work events. Other memories may be simply going out for a great meal with friends. There is significant science linking aromas, tastes and experiences to memory. Melissa Locker explored these links in her 2019 article. John S. Allen, in his 2012 podcast The Omnivorous Mind, took a plunge into taste, the mind, evolution, and how emotions, feelings, and memories are triggered by certain foods and experiences.
Experiences that Generate Excitement
I can tell you exactly when and where I experienced my first sizzling fajitas. Many people I’ve spoken to can remember their first fajita experience as well — there’s nothing quite like it. Think about food-related experiences that generate real excitement:
• Sizzling fajitas brought to the table — this turns a lot of heads in any restaurant.
• Table-side guacamole.
• Flaming parmesan cheese wheel pasta or flaming saganaki cheese.
• Fresh ceviche prepared in an open kitchen with fresh lime juice and fresh fish.
• Steak by the inch: A rolling butcher cart for tableside service allows the customer to choose the cut and weight.
• Freshly squeezed orange juice prepared to order.
• Amazing craft cocktail creations, shaken with style and the freshest ingredients.
• Live entertainment or show with a meal.
• Locations featuring the most amazing views with amazing meals.
What are your most memorable food and beverage experiences? Why are they so memorable? Fresh ingredients? Outstanding presentation? Preparation theater? Exemplary service? The people you were with? An amazing location? Some combination of the above?
A Fresh Example
One way to do this is to pick a fresh theme you can build on and highlight. Develop some cocktails, appetizers, entrees and desserts to build on that theme.
Take limes, for example. Prepare all dishes using freshly squeezed lime juice and other fresh ingredients so the customer can see, smell and experience the freshness:
• Cocktails: Margaritas, mules and rickeys.
• Appetizers: Guacamole, salsa, ceviche and a fresh lime vinaigrette salad.
• Entrées: Lime-focused marinades for chicken, shrimp and vegetarian options.
• Deserts: Key lime pie, a lime bar brownie or a lemon-lime sorbet.
You can develop similar themes around oranges, chili, basil or mint to switch it up.
Creating Fresh Experiences
We are in a rapidly changing competitive environment, with new consumer trends, behaviors and sentiments emerging. There is a strong desire for experiences, as well as fresh and natural products, with the increased importance of safety, health and hygiene.
Be creative. Offer fresh, exciting and memorable experiences to support your brand image and gain market share. Let’s give the customers what they want. It’s not just about taste — it’s about the experience. Show your customer what you’re doing and put your business in the limelight with exciting, fresh experiences.