The Big Bounceback: Restaurants & Dining

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Restaurants have been hit hard over the last year of pandemic and, for many businesses, take out and delivery were not enough to make up for the loss of in-restaurant diners. As people get vaccinated, they are more likely to go out to eat again and restaurant brands are preparing for what this bounceback will look like.

Restaurants have been hit hard over the last year of pandemic and, for many businesses, take out and delivery were not enough to make up for the loss of in-restaurant diners. As people get vaccinated, they are more likely to go out to eat again and restaurant brands are preparing for what this bounceback will look like.

“We believe that IHOP, and the industry as a whole, are poised to see significant upside potential in 2021 and beyond,” says Jay Johns, President of IHOP. “While a meaningful change in performance won’t happen overnight, we definitely feel confident in our ability to restore sustainable sales momentum in the second half of 2021. As more people are vaccinated, we believe that we’ll head into a new restaurant renaissance.”

Consumers have not ignored restaurants over the last year – they have tried to support their favorite restaurants by ordering delivery or take out. TripAdvisor data found that 72% of its site users said that supporting local restaurants has been important to them during the pandemic and 47% said they plan to dine out at restaurants more frequently this year. The site has seen a 20% increase in restaurant search activity across the U.S. this month compared to the previous month – showing the pent up demand for dining out, hinting at a bounceback.

Still, restaurants will have to make customers feel comfortable enough to eat on site. “Hygiene and safety measures are also still a top priority for consumers returning to restaurants, with nearly half (48%) of consumers saying that a restaurant’s health and safety scoring information is the most important factor when dining out,” says Christine Maguire, GM/VP Global Media Business at Tripadvisor. “Therefore, to help people feel more confident in their return to restaurants, Tripadvisor last year launched Travel Safe, a tool that allows businesses to show the steps they are taking to protect their customers.”

Before all consumers are comfortable dining inside, restaurants will have to offer outdoor dining and pick up options to ensure that customers still feel safe. “Our approach has always been about continuing to shift to meet our guests’ needs – and coming out of the pandemic a big piece of that is prioritizing off-premise as much as on-premise experiences,” Johns continues. “While we know our guests enjoy coming to IHOP for the communal, social dining experience, some guests will undoubtedly continue to prefer enjoying that experience from the comfort of their own homes. Our focus will remain on creating the best possible experience, wherever that might be.” 

Ruby Tuesday is celebrating with a ‘Welcome Back’ to freshly vaccinated consumers. “Ruby Tuesday’s loyal fans and new guests are clamoring back now that spring, the vaccine, and stimulus money have arrived,” says Jenifer B. Harmon, CMO of Ruby Tuesday. “Convenience across all channels is key now. Dining room business is tremendously increasing, while TueGo and delivery are staying equally strong. Our fans are so excited to take advantage again of our iconic Endless Garden Bar. We are tailoring all of our programs around our guests, their safety, and how they want to be served. We will remain agile and nimble to meet the new demands of our industry today. This nation is bouncing back and so is Ruby Tuesday.” 

Location will continue to play a role in how comfortable people will feel eating out. Cities where COVID cases are down and more people are vaccinated will likely come back quicker than places where numbers rise and local authorities establish stricter rules about capacity and indoor dining. 

“The question of how we bounce back is complicated, as we operate under different guidelines in every city where we operate,” says Pavan Pardasani, Chief Marketing Officer of Tao Group Hospitality. “We’re already seeing a tremendous amount of pent up demand from our guests in every market across all segments of our business. The greatest challenge to our recovery in our restaurants is the capacity restrictions, but even more acutely curfews and limits on how many guests can dine together at any one given time. Our venues were built with celebrations in mind, and we continue to experience the most pain in not having the ability to host large parties.  We also operate exclusively in large city centers where the flight of residents and large corporate offices has made it challenging for us to recover weekday business.” 

Jeffrey Bank, CEO Alicart Restaurant Group, Carmine’s Italian and Virgil’s Real Barbecue agrees that how the restaurant industry bounces back is dependent on where in the country you are located. 

“We have restaurants in five geographic markets and we anticipate differences in each,” he says. “For example, Las Vegas and Atlantic City have the potential to have an incredible response once we are back to 100% occupancy, since everyone needs some fun after this year Washington D.C. should see an uptick in Q4 and January of 2022. The new administration, lobbyists, convention, sports and tourism will help. In NYC, we anticipate a small grind forward as occupancy restrictions have lagged compared to the rest of the country – first to close, last to re-open, but once we are allowed 100% occupancy everyone is owed missed birthday, graduation, engagement parties and the like. Carmine’s especially is a place for groups to gather in celebration so we expect sales to be amazing.”   

While it may be gradual in some places and fast in others, 2021 looks optimistic for restaurant brands and the diving experience.

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