It’s fair to say that 2021 has been a difficult year. However, the restaurant industry, like so many others, has largely weathered the storm by innovating new approaches to protect profits and upgrade guest experience.
This is especially impressive given that this industry was one of the first to be hit by the restrictions and limitations that the pandemic necessitated and is a testament to the staff’s resilience, drive, and creativity at all levels in these establishments. The five key factors below are the driving forces behind what kept kitchens up and running in 2021.
1. Guest Experience as King
The requirement for social distancing meant that most eateries simply could not seat as many diners as they were able to pre-pandemic, which had, and is having, a massive impact on profitability. To get around this, the guest experience was put more in the spotlight than ever before to maximize per-customer spend and solidify brand perceptions.
Themed restaurants, niche establishments, venues offering multiple-course tasting menus, and avant-garde eateries where, for example, seafood is plucked out of the water and filleted before guests’ very eyes have all done well in 2021.
Restaurant aesthetics, too, have been an essential element in the general upgrading of the guest experience. This year has seen a focus on providing diners with an ambiance that matches the overall vibe of the establishment; retro barstools, for example, line up alongside a gleaming countertop that reflects the high-end optics beyond; corner booths are used to create cozy nooks, or contemporary, minimalist restaurant furniture is arranged with precision symmetry beneath artisan crafted, oversized light fittings.
2. Delivering Great Taste
Diversifying into delivery was crucial in keeping many restaurants alive in 2021. Establishments that had never before offered a takeout or delivery menu began to incorporate these elements into their business plans and their kitchens. As well as providing a crucial revenue stream, delivery menus were able to reach new clientele and also served as a useful way of trialing new dishes, in terms of popular appeal, before putting them on the main restaurant menu.
The convenience that delivery gives to diners tends to result in higher, or more frequent, customer spending: ancillary items can potentially generate additional profit, and vouchers and discounts can be used to elicit extra orders effectively.
For high-end establishments, meal-in-a-box kits were a great way to keep kitchens going even when dining spaces had to close entirely. Gourmet, ready prepared dishes, either delivered to diners’ doors or collected on-site, were a vital means to help restaurants stay afloat ready-prepared and are likely to continue to play a role in the industry as a whole going forward.
3. Popping Up
Restaurants that were already regularly using pop-up concessions to boost trade and brand awareness found themselves particularly well-positioned in 2021. Pop-ups are a fantastic way to keep trade flowing, without vast additional overheads, and a means to get your wares – or food, in this case – both to loyal customers and totally new clientele. Finding new markets by physically taking a selection of your menu to another location proved to be a relatively easy way for many restaurants to keep their heads above water over the last year or so.
4. Outdoor Dining
With social distancing, meaning that many restaurants saw their capacity half, as well as the focus on the importance of good ventilation and fresh air, the ability to provide a versatile outdoor seating area, was one of the main factors that contributed to the success of those eateries that survived the pandemic.
Restaurants that were already using ‘alfresco’ spaces – and venues, for example, those that included roof-top bars or semi-covered gardens – found themselves unexpectedly ahead of the game in this regard. Establishments that had previously not used outdoor dining space, or who had only made use of it in a very limited sense, needed to expand and upgrade their provision to survive. Creating new outdoor seating areas, or making innovative use of existing ones, became crucial, and many restaurants did so to beautiful effect. Bench seating, for example, and classic rattan patio chairs and tables specifically designed for outdoors were used to conjure up an alternative to traditional inside dining.
5. Menu Revolution
Responding to consumer demand and changes in public awareness was an important factor in maintaining profits and growth in 2021. As well as the rise of veganism – driven by ethical and health concerns – there has been an increasing desire among customers to see locally sourced food appear on menus, as well as organic and seasonal produce. Restaurants that reflected these elements in their menus had an exponentially greater chance of survival over the last year.
A growing consumer focus on health has also driven a trend for smaller portion size, which has the potential to be just as good for an establishment’s bottom line as it is for their diners’ wellbeing.
Alive and Kitchen
How far restaurants incorporated the five factors above into their operations played a drastic role in their chances of survival in 2021. The fact that, overall, the restaurant industry has survived and thrived over the difficult last year is a credit to the creativity, dynamism, and resolve of this industry.