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95% of People Are Back at Restaurants, But Their Expectations Have Transformed

The pandemic has forced marketers to optimize their campaign dollars like never before. And that doesn’t seem to be going away, according to Stacey Floberg, former director of marketing at Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.

“When I first started out in the industry very long ago, it was ‘make every dollar work like two.’ I think it’s now ‘make every dollar work like five,’” Floberg said in a recent podcast interview.

Many marketers can relate to Floberg’s observation—especially in the restaurant industry. Thankfully, due to widespread vaccine availability, more consumers are starting to return in droves to restaurants through pickup, delivery and traditional dining. According to a The Dining Dilemma report from Epsilon, a whopping 95% of people are eating at restaurants again.

Restaurant marketers now have an opportunity to reconnect with their loyal guests and sync up with new prospects. But Epsilon research also shows that customers’ preferences for engaging with restaurant brands are not identical to their preferences pre- or mid-pandemic; they are unique to this moment in time.

Let’s explore what the data shows about current restaurant guest preferences, and how Which Wich is an example of a brand really connecting with the modern consumer.

Consumers want to use restaurants’ online ordering systems

According to Epsilon research, the top two reasons consumers ordered a restaurant meal over the past three months were:

  • They could order through the restaurant’s app or website (49%)

  • The restaurant was nearby (41%)

It’s noteworthy that consumers were more likely to use a restaurant’s native app or website than third-party delivery apps like Grubhub or DoorDash (only 32% of respondents).

Of an online presence, Floberg says that it’s crucial to ensure guests’ digital experience is just as positive as it would be in person. “In-store, I have music in the background, and I have a vibe, and I have this feeling … and the goal is that a guest walks out feeling much better than they did when they walked in,” Floberg said. “How do you do that in a digital space where you don’t have that human interaction or that one-to-one contact?”

Per Epsilon research, guests indicated that what they liked most about ordering from a restaurant was when it was easy to order (74%) and easy to pay (60%).

One way to ensure an experience is to an individual customer’s liking is to use the first-party data you have for them during their website visit. How can you use the data you have to create a seamless experience for your online guests—that’s as pleasant as if they were there in person?

Having your own online ordering system is not only the guests’ preference but allows you to customize the experience to each person. What’s more, it creates a great cycle wherein guests share their information directly with you rather than with a third-party app, which enables you to improve their experience with each subsequent order they make.

You can also use what you know about your best guests to send them relevant updates and offers to keep them coming back. Overwhelmingly, in Epsilon’s research findings, consumers said they would consider ordering from a restaurant if they got a special offer or discount (65%).

Prioritizing first-party data ensures you’re sending the right offers to the right guests.

Geotargeted messaging is a must-have now

As mentioned above, the second biggest reason consumers are going back to certain restaurants is because they’re close to where they live or work.

It’s critical to ensure that your messaging reaches consumers in the channels they prefer, at the times they’re most likely to be making their dining decisions. Location-based messaging is a crucial component in a modern restaurant marketing strategy. This means sending guests relevant communications and offers for your restaurant locations that are closest to them.

Of geotargeting, Floberg says it’s one way Which Wich can make the most of their marketing dollars: “Because a lot of marketing that we’re doing is being done in the digital space, geotargeting has allowed us to be nimble with those dollars.”

Epsilon has seen this method work well for other brands, as well: Gastropub staple Bar Louie leaned into location-based marketing messages to drive over 53,000 new conversions.

Put the customer first by meeting their current preferences

At the end of the day, customers will align with restaurant brands that fit into their lifestyles and put them at the center of their choices. This may be the least tactical recommendation, but Floberg sees it as a crucial focal point for any effective marketing campaign.

“It’s always about the guest first and letting the guest have a seat at the table in all of your strategic decisions,” Floberg said. “The brand comes second. Think about what’s best for that guest, how they can engage with the brand, and how they want to engage with the brand, and how you can meet that guest in their journey.”

It’s no longer a question of people not engaging with restaurants anymore. The question now is, how can you make your marketing dollars work like five by most effectively syncing up with modern customer preferences?

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