Why the Coronavirus will force restaurants to embrace their local communities more than ever

Each restaurant will have to answer two main questions to figure out what its corona-time business model will be:

First, who are the customers that will be willing and able to buy from the restaurant for the next 18 to 24 months? And what can it sell these customers that they will want, while being economically and practically viable during both intense and less-intense lockdowns?

Every restaurant’s answers to these two questions will be different.

What is clear, though, is that pre-coronavirus business models built around attracting customers from across the country or around the world will not work in corona time. Even attracting customers from the other side of the city may be impossible during intense lockdowns. Because some level of physical distancing and travel restrictions are likely to be a part of daily life for so long, the customers who will matter most for any restaurant will be those who live close enough to collect their orders in person or to get food delivered quickly at a reasonable price.

As the months pass in corona time, how these local customers eat at home will inevitably change. In both intense and less-intense lockdowns, people will likely work from home more than they used to and have less money to spend than before. The routines they eventually settle into will probably involve much more cooking. Restaurants will end up competing not with each other but with the supermarket and its frozen ready-meal section. What restaurants sell will have to change as corona time proceeds — most importantly, it will have to become progressively less expensive.

To survive as the consumer landscape changes, restaurants will have to pay more attention to their local customers than ever before. If the neighbourhood has many large families, a restaurant might succeed by offering cooked-to-order or reheatable meals in a range of portion sizes. If there are few grocers in the neighbourhood, it might succeed by selling pantry and grocery items. If there are community organisations in the neighbourhood, the restaurant might succeed by arranging to be paid to supply them with cooked meals — organisations to support this kind of restaurant response have emerged, for instance, in LondonBoston, and New York. What works for one restaurant may not work for another.

Paying close attention to the local context cannot be a one-off, either. Restaurants will have to keep paying attention and responding to local customers as corona time unfolds, disposable incomes gradually fall, and customer demand changes. During an intense lockdown, a restaurant with a cooked-to-order takeaway menu might add lower-priced reheatable packed meals to its offering to draw customers who have become more price-sensitive because they’ve been furloughed.

A few weeks later, if more of its customers are out of work, it might begin to phase out the relatively expensive cooked-to-order menu and add even lower-priced prepared ingredient boxes with recipes to the list of reheatable meals. Some weeks after that, if the trends continue, it might start to also offer even less expensive produce boxes and pantry items. Building business models that are viable even during intense lockdowns will make restaurants robust even when customer demand is lower than expected during less-intense lockdown periods — as restaurants in cities that have graduated to less-intense lockdowns are beginning to report.

Only restaurants that continually put effort into understanding their local context will be able to find local customers, then offer them what they want to buy at the price they’re willing to pay, as that price drops over time.

Source: Eater London

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