For Restaurant Operators, Cautious Optimism is on the Menu

We welcome friend and collaborator Lisa Miller as guest author. Her firm, Lisa W. Miller and Associates LLC, has been tracking COVID sentiment since March 2020 and is using data and insights to help business leaders inform their marketing and innovation strategies for the post-COVID world. This post, Lisa shares some good news and some watchouts for restaurant operators (that are relevant across many industries).

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror and warmer months ahead, consumers’ readiness to re-engage continues to accelerate.  63% of Americans are ready to step out, put a toe in the water and get back to some sense of normalcy.  

Consumer demand is exploding. That’s great for businesses, but now the pressure is on restaurant operators to deliver joyful customer experiences. They need to be mindful that customers’ frustrations are also mounting and, if left unchecked, will negatively impact restaurant recovery this summer.

#1: Waning consumer patience with restaurants being understaffed

Early in the pandemic, consumers were forgiving when restaurants were short-staffed, but that patience has worn thin.  June data indicates that 43% of restaurant goers are frustrated with restaurants not having enough staff, up 2x from February data.  For the First Out the Door segment, understaffed frustration shot up to 56%. 

Net: When you are keeping customers waiting, it’s hard to deliver a joyful experience 

#2 Growing crowds = more scrutiny on safety protocols

Masks on? Masks off?  Consumers are divided on this. 49% of restaurant goers expressed frustrations with customers not wearing masks -- up a full 10 points from May. 

The Very Anxious consumer segment is finally beginning their journey back to restaurants, but their radar is up. Nearly half are concerned with customers not wearing masks or social distancing, as well as restaurants not taking enough visible precautions to keep them safe.  While the total percentage of Guests concerned about safety protocols feels small at only 15%, the majority of these Guests find it extremely or very frustration which will negatively impact their decision to come back.  

Net: Reassuring with safety is still important, especially for those who are more anxious. 

#3 Concern about rising prices at restaurants

Consumers are savvy enough to connect the dots about inflation and minimum wage laws impacting restaurant prices.  66% are concerned that restaurant prices will go up a lot.  

Net:  Be cautious with pricing actions as price sensitivity will be high in the coming months. 

So now what? 

The optimism that characterizes the Journey Back To Joy remains, but now there is also an urgent need for restaurant operators to address specific guest pain points or risk squelching the momentum of the recovery.  

Lead with Joy

  • Schedule appropriate staffing levels to deliver an exceptional and memorable experience.  Easier said than done, yet it should be the top priority. 

  • Proceed with caution on pricing actions. Having sticker shock at the end of a meal isn’t joyful. 

Reassure safety

  • Be consistent with your visible safety protocols – your guests are watching

  • Keep your mask signage visible 

Learn more about LWM’s complete COVID Re-Entry Consumer Segmentation here