As consumers begin to emerge from a long winter (and year) of hibernation, they are eager to venture out, having tired of their own four walls and cooking for themselves. Restaurants have a prime opportunity to welcome them back – but the challenge will be staying top of mind as customers assess their options.
Use Consumer Shifts to Your Advantage
As restaurants continue to pivot their operations to meet these customers’ needs, here are three trends that restaurants can capitalize on to reach customers in their moment of decision.
1. Behavioral shifts present new opportunities
Prior to the pandemic, nearly 90% of workers traveled to their workplace, which created a traffic spike during morning and afternoon commutes. But as patterns changed, there has been a documented growth in navigation in suburban areas, and a disruption of conventional dining dayparts – both the result of more people working from home. Now traffic might start a little later or manifest as a steady hum throughout the day.
Yet, while remote work has unequivocally altered commuting patterns, people are still driving – whether it’s to run local errands, grab a bite, or take road trips. In fact, Waze’s Mike Wilson confirms that Waze data shows that in the past year, share of navigations to fast-food locations was up 33%.
That opens the door to vast opportunities for restaurants to capture new diners as they run errands or plan dinner options for the family.
2. Customers seek value
As many customers cope with unemployment or pay cuts, they are keeping an eye on their monthly budgets. That said, they are still willing to spend when given an incentive.
To meet customers where they are, establishments might have to make some temporary adjustments, such as highlighting menu items that are more affordable for diners (and for the restaurant itself, in terms of cost per ingredient and cost per serving), repricing items to meet a more desirable price point, or offering competitive promotions.
As customers return to their habit of dining out, restaurants will have the opportunity to upsell. In the meantime, now is the time to help consumers re-establish comforting rituals, such as treating themselves to a burger as they head home to tackle a challenging project or fueling up with a smoothie after a mid-morning run.
3. Customers are eager to return to some semblance of normal life
With widespread vaccinations upon us, consumers crave the resumption of in-person experiences and safe socialization. “We expect restaurants to be at the forefront of that recovery and foresee an impressive increase due to pent-up demand,” Wilson says.
In markets like Australia, where widespread reopening has already begun, Wilson notes that restaurant dining has returned to pre-COVID levels.
Already the shift appears to be happening in the United States. While takeout and delivery are likely to continue, consumers are starting to warm up to the idea of dining out, with more than half saying they currently feel comfortable doing so, and even more (62%) reporting they feel safe eating with outdoor accommodations.
Communication Will Drive Visits
Consumers are less likely to be experimental these days, so the more information operators can provide, the better.
As a first step, restaurants should be increasing their online presence with details about hours, menus and reservations. Since every state has different indoor dining restrictions relating to capacity and curfews, restaurants also have the opportunity to update their messaging to speak to current conditions. Touting patio, garden or other outdoor seating can also reel in customers who aren’t quite ready to move indoors.
Given that many customers currently prefer drive thru or takeout options, restaurants should provide a seamless in-app or online experience for on-the-go diners. In fact, in the past year, the share of trips to businesses with drive-through options jumped 25%, and at the height of the pandemic, the share of navigations to fast food locations was up 113%. Prominent signage should delineate parking areas, entrances and exits. Adding staff during peak periods can also help ensure a fast and safe experience for everyone.
Finally, consumers today are zeroing in on safety; restaurants need to contribute to consumers’ comfort levels by committing to sanitation and social distancing protocols. Staff should follow state guidelines – washing hands, wearing a mask, and wiping down frequently touched surfaces – and restaurants should alert consumers to their commitment to these protocols in their marketing messaging.
Waze Alerts Drivers Who Are Hungry For Your Message
As restaurants prepare for the upcoming resurgence, Waze can be a trusted partner in capturing market share. Wilson finds that successful restaurants have been quick to pivot, advertising on Waze to reach the millions of drivers that are on the road every single day. These restaurants use Waze solutions – Pins, Arrows, Location Personality badges and Takeover ads – to reach drivers with information on their offers, hours, safety protocols, and more, reaching hungry drivers on the road during the moment of decision-making.
 “The Work from Home Revolution: Implications for the Office Sector.” Green Street, 23 July 2020, URL. Accessed 12 March 2021.
 Waze Data, US, February 2020 vs. September 2020.
 “Tracking the Return to Normal: Dining.” Morning Consult, 10 March 2021, URL. Accessed 12 March, 2021.
 Source: Waze Data, US. January/February 2020 vs. November/December 2020.
 Source: Waze Data, US. February 2020 vs. September 2020; February 2020 vs. April 2020.