Reinventing Restaurants With Digital Commerce

If there’s anything that the summer of 2020 has taught us, it’s that our new normal will be unpredictable. Businesses and consumers alike will have to be flexible as they adjust to potential resurgences of Covid-19 cases.

Fortunately, reinvention is nothing new to the dining industry. In fact, the first restaurants were born out of social upheaval. When 18th-century aristocratic chefs lost their jobs after the French Revolution, they created the world’s first restaurants. During the 1918 pandemic, restaurants remained open, but saloons were forced to close. When prohibition became law two years later, saloons had to transform into lunchrooms, soda fountains and automats.

While restaurant owners face similarly historic challenges today, they have a tool that their predecessors did not—digital commerce. Even before the pandemic, off-premise services like drive-thru, takeout and delivery accounted for 60% of all restaurant orders, according to the National Restaurant Association. Mobile has been key to driving this uptick, with 63% of millennials saying that they have at least one quick-service app on their phones, according to Zion and Zion research. This is not to mention the 45% of consumers who say that mobile ordering or loyalty programs would encourage them to use online ordering services more.

By leveraging digital commerce from discovery to purchase to loyalty, restaurant owners can future-proof their customer engagement, no matter what twists and turns lie ahead.

Discovery: Empower customers to add variety

Consumers surveyed in a Facebook-commissioned study said they missed dining out one to several times per week, but they were gaining confidence with food delivery services. We’ve seen evidence of this trend as our advertisers use Facebook products to encourage customers to download restaurant ordering apps, drive-thru and curbside pickup orders and loyalty programs.

To help drive awareness for your offerings in response to consumers seeking variety, consider these strategies:

  1. Use clear messaging about the services you provide that enable dining in—at home—versus dining out.
  2. Feature menu items that offer a unique (and portable) alternative to the typical at-home meal, such as meal kits, family dinner boxes and more.
  3. Partner with third-party food delivery services to explore ways to share insights and advertise collaboratively.

Purchase: Promote ordering that’s easy, flexible and safe

Our research also revealed that the pandemic has increasingly led diners to appreciate ads for discounts, free and contactless deliveries or other services promising ease and relief. Consumers are also concerned about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones. To respond to these new expectations around the food ordering, preparation and delivery process, consider these strategies:

  1. Reach your consumers where they are, especially as they turn to digital platforms to stay connected with loved ones and brands. For example, through News Feed, Stories, In-Stream Video, Messenger and other platforms, restaurants can reach the more than 178 million people in the U.S.—over half of the nation’s population—who access Facebook products daily, according to Facebook internal data.
  2. Promote the products and services that will bring meaningful benefits to customers now.
  3. Communicate your sanitization and business practices.

Loyalty: Sustain your customer relationships through personalization

Digital platforms present ongoing opportunities for restaurants to engage customers. One way to nurture these relationships is to show support for the social causes customers care about. Customers expect businesses to respond to what’s happening in the world around them by helping local communities and offering support in light of news events. They’re also looking for support themselves as they process and adjust their lives in light of news events. To address the consumer’s heightened expectations for social good and need for empathetic engagement, consider these strategies:

  1. Promote what your company is doing to help others, such as donating meals or masks or supporting and protecting your employees.
  2. Maintain your authentic voice and identity, while being inclusive and supportive through these times.

The road to reinvention

After centuries of innovating in response to events beyond their control, restauranteurs have proven to have what it takes to prevail. There’s one truth that has stood the test of time: The most resilient restaurants have the strongest connections with their customers. By leveraging new technology unique to this generation, today’s restaurant owners can up-level their customer relationships.

In today’s digital age, restaurant owners can overcome physical barriers between their businesses and their customers as they listen and respond to their needs. As customers encounter changes in their circumstances, they’re open to new ways to experience a restaurant outside of four physical walls. And while the pandemic is introducing new constraints, customers are embracing some new practices, including contactless delivery, buy-one-get-one family meals and sanitization policies. As in-person dining resumes, customers are going to remember the brands that continued to connect with them even when times were tough. Using digital commerce to stay top of mind will help restaurants bounce back more quickly and potentially be stronger for the long run.