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How Restaurants Are Courting Today’s COVID-Changed Consumer

How Restaurants Are Courting Today’s COVID-Changed Consumer

May 28, 2021 at 05:41PM
by PYMNTS

Restaurants have changed in the last 15 months, and so have consumers. What people are looking for from their restaurant experience has been shaped by the pandemic, with new considerations affecting consumers’ ordering, purchasing, and dining behaviors. PYMNTS research published in the May edition of Delivering on Restaurant Rewards created in collaboration with Paytronix, has identified four main personas of today’s restaurant customer, each persona described by their primary pandemic-related concern: the health-concerned (39 percent of consumers), the economy-concerned (27 percent), the social-concerned (22 percent), and the unconcerned (10 percent).

As restaurants observe the way these concerns affect their customers’ behaviors, many restaurants are devising methods and launching new initiatives to appeal to these changed consumers.

Safe And Sound

To target the health-conscious restaurant customers, who make up the plurality of consumers, restaurants are rolling out new formats and technologies that minimize contact. Take, for instance, the automat format being revived in New Jersey and New York. Last week (May 19), the Brooklyn Dumpling Shop automat opened in New York City’s East Village (not in Brooklyn), allowing customers to pick up their dumplings with “zero human interaction,” reports Architectural Digest, paying at a contact-free kiosk or through their mobile devices with a QR code.

Meanwhile, across the Hudson, Automat Kitchen recently opened in Jersey City, New Jersey, a more classic take on the mid-century format. As  Joe Scutellaro, the restaurant’s principal owner, told PYMNTS in an interview, “Simply put, it’s the safest and most convenient way to dine at the moment.”

Of course, it is not just small, local restaurants experimenting with low-contact formats for health-conscious customers. Taco Bell recently opened a digital kiosk location in Times Square. As Mike Grams, the chain’s president and global chief operating officer, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation, “The behaviors and consumer needs that we’ve seen develop during the pandemic are sure to stick around, so we have no plans of slowing down with technology-forward restaurants.”

Smaller digital integrations, such as on-table QR codes, can also help make the in-restaurant experience more comfortable for these nervous diners.

A Penny Saved

The coronavirus has taken a huge toll both on the United States economy and on many individuals’ finances. Though jobs are coming back, and many are getting back on their feet, the economic impacts of the past 15 months will continue to affect consumer behavior into the post-pandemic future.

One of the ways restaurants are looking to retain the loyalty of these customers is by adding lower-cost versions of menu items for value-seeking customers. Nathan’s Famous, for one, debuted a new value menu in April. McDonald’s, meanwhile, appeals to thrifty customers with its Deals page, which customers can check at any time for ongoing discounts and offers. Of course, loyalty rewards can also drive spend for these customers while keeping them coming back.

Building Bridges

Social-concerned consumers are seeking ways to reconnect with their friends and family. Restaurants are appealing to these customers’ desire for togetherness by offering communal experiences at home and in restaurants.

Special edition party packs integrate restaurants into consumers’ hosting routines. Take, for instance, Taco Bell’s recent NBA Playoffs Party Packs with game day meals for four or KFC’s 10-Piece Feast, which dropped Thursday (May 27) in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

Meanwhile, for on-premises dining, restaurants are finding ways to turn the meal into more of an immersive experience, one that celebrates the opportunity to gather together again. As Rob Kenny, director of restaurant partnerships at Dosh, told PYMNTS recently, consumers are looking to have a “great experience at a restaurant, whether it’s accompanying it with a live band or whatever that might be. Just an experience at the restaurant that’s going to leave you with a sense of, it’s great to be back out again.”

Additionally, Andrew Robbins, co-founder and CEO at Paytronix, told PYMNTS, restaurants’ outdoor events such as a “Tiki bar on a Friday night in their parking lot” can draw customers to a space that accommodates more people than the in-restaurant dining room, which may make these sorts of special events a mainstay of restaurants’ post-pandemic futures.

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