It should come as no surprise that when you think of dating options on Google, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars are the top ranking places to visit. Restaurants have played key roles as political hotspots in the past and continue to serve their constituent communities, both as a place to get a good bite to eat, and a gathering space to celebrate or commiserate the world around you. As more and more consumers turn to delivery options, these public spaces may become less common.
According to Cowen, a multinational investment bank, food delivery is predicted to surge 79 percent by 2022, from $43 billion to $76 billion. Restaurateurs have stepped up to meet that challenge by both opening Dark or Ghost Kitchens and by partnering with companies like GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber Eats, and/or Postmates that have increased brand reach, providing delivery for restaurants that had never offered such in the past. So, why eat out when you could enjoy a relaxing night in?
Brick and mortar
The rise of restaurants correlates historically with increased urbanization. As communities grow, their need for places to eat while traveling in turn grew. Initially, these spots were in inns or taverns, spots for weary travelers to not only grab a bite to eat but a place to intermingle.
As gathering spots, restaurants have remained such a part of our cultural zeitgeist that they show up in everything from the Canterbury Tales (the Tabbard Inn) to Star Wars (the Mos Eisley Cantina) as places where things happen and people come together. Going out to eat has remained so ingrained in our society that the restaurant industry accounted for 798.7 billion dollars of U.S. spending in 2017.
Ye Olde Inn
The first restaurant as we might identify it now, featuring a menu with variety and the conventions we’ve come to expect, is traced back to 18th century France. It was during this time that the Industrial Revolution began, which led to economic opportunities for many.
Combined with the advent of the five-day work week, a relatively modern conceit, now consumers had the time and resources to spend in dining restaurants. These eateries were developed to compliment the customer experience and grew to provide options for a burgeoning customer base looking for new dining experiences.
Nowadays, public life has shifted into the digital domain. Approximately 77 percent of Americans own smartphones and even more so under the age of 30. It’s this demographic that accounts for the growing trend towards delivery.
Contemporary restaurants prioritize convenience in the customer experience by remaining sensitive to turn-around time, freshness, and ease of access. For modern diners, that is most noticeable by the integration of mobile technologies in the restaurant, and the rise off-premises/delivery options.
Want to place an order in advance? In many cases, you can expect your food to be ready when you get there. Want it brought to your house? With a few clicks and a willingness to pay delivery surcharges, you can get any number of things delivered to your doorstep. After all, what’s more convenient than eating in the privacy of your own home on your terms?
This shift to convenience isn’t a new thing. Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s have been doing it for decades, reframing the dining experience from a communal gathering to a quick, function of human habit. Dining out isn’t feasible for everyone, especially if you have young kids, or simply want to hang out on your own time.
In a many ways, having a night at home is a cheaper entertainment option than going out. At home, drinks are cheaper, and with services like Netflix or Gamefly, there is plenty to do from your couch. The fact that it was a public space for centuries is no reason to continue a trend, although it does serve as some context for how that restaurant space has evolved.
Public space versus community space
A public space, by definition, can provide opportunities for “social interaction, social mixing, and social inclusion, and can facilitate the development of community ties.” These are spaces identified by their accessibility; anyone can go to a library or a public park, but you have to pay for service in a restaurant.
Still, getting food together serves a comparable public purpose as an opportunity to meet with like-minded people and organize your thoughts. Evidence indicates that eating together helps your diet and your emotional well-being . Not only do you have the opportunity to unpack your day together but depending on your situation you can work together on meal planning and organizing.
No doubt, the delivery boom is encroaching on the community space of the brick and mortar. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why that might be, restaurateurs might use a few tips to entice new visitors through their door, while keeping the kitchen running on time.
First, if you have the bandwidth, you can lean into the delivery boom by opening or hosting a dark or ghost kitchen. Dark kitchens are the physical space that virtual restaurants use to cook their food specifically for off-premise dining. You may not be able to change dining trends by yourself, but you can certainly work to mitigate their drain on the profit for your brick-and-mortar by either running your own dark kitchen or by renting your space out after hours to a business doing the same.
Family style dining
Studies indicate that millennial buying power is stagnant compared to previous generations, leaving many hustling to make ends meet. How do you compete with those who are staying in and pinching their pennies instead of going out? Emphasize your community values. Consider offering farm-to-table or locally sourced products that tie into where you live. Offer family style serving options that place value on sharing with one another.
Set the mood with some tacit social and artistic cues to keep your environment warm and inviting, a place -like Cheers- where everyone knows your name. If you aren’t now, you might consider restaurant technology like kitchen display systems or point of sales devices and apps to help you streamline your process, allowing your staff to keep their focus centered on the guest experience.
Sights and Sounds
Remain mindful of how your restaurant looks and sounds. Is it too loud? It’s not uncommon for restaurant volume to reach and sometimes exceed 80 decibels, which is only 5 dBs below a level damaging to human ears. Make sure you set any music to a reasonable volume, and if you can limit your own noise, do that to allow as much opportunity for your guests to chat as peacefully as possible.
Does your lighting set the right tone? Are your guests able to relax and talk with one another? Mileage varies on the best kind of lights but think about what you would find most appealing and comforting, then lean into that. Ensuring that everything is clean and visually appealing can go a long way to spark interest.
We’re all increasingly inundated with convenience as a virtue, but sometimes leaving our comfort zones and opening up to new experiences can enrich our lives. While restaurateurs may not be able to shift the culture in one direction or another single-handedly, they can examine these trends to determine their advantage. Studies indicate that community space and real-life social engagement are vital to mental and emotional health. Maintaining those spaces may not seem critical, but restaurants do now, and have historically provided those opportunities for people to meet and engage.