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By Margaret Lindquist | October 2020
When Maryland’s stay-at-home order was announced in March, Market Street Public House in Denton, Maryland shut down, and owners Michelle and Brian Tyler weren’t sure they’d ever open up again.
Like any great Irish pub, the Public House was all about bringing people together, so the Tylers had never thought much about offering takeout.
“We didn't really know staff-wise how we would do it. But our kitchen staff was willing to try it. So we opened for takeout,” says Michelle Tyler. The Tylers started taking telephone orders, but with a single phone line, customers had to continuously redial until they could get through to the person picking up the phone, who would then enter the order into the restaurant’s Oracle MICROS point-of-sale system to send the ticket to the kitchen. “So I thought, ‘I wonder if there's a way to do something online?’ And that's when I reached out to Oracle,” she says.
After speaking with an Oracle solution engineer about their business and the best options for navigating COVID-19, Oracle connected them with integration partner Eigen Payments. The restaurant ended up with a digital ordering system for online and mobile ordering that’s integrated into their restaurant point-of-sale system, as well as pay-up-front capabilities using Eigen’s xDine. Online ordering became an extension of their website, with orders sent in real time to the kitchen. They even added some takeout drink specials, such as their strawberry mojito served in a mason jar.
“It was really simple and removed the burden from the person at the check-in podium,” Tyler says.
The restaurant industry has taken a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, with estimates of at least 100,000 restaurants closing in the past six months, according to a September 2020 report from the National Restaurant Association. At the same time, communities are rallying around the restaurants they love to help them make it to the other side. According to a survey conducted by Oracle Food and Beverage, 59% of US consumers and 47% of UK consumers plan to eat out as soon as they’re able. “Over the course of the last few months, restaurateurs have tested multiple concepts with varying degrees of success. Ultimately, their success is largely dependent upon loyal customers that want to see their local restaurant community survive.” says Simon de Montfort Walker, senior vice president and general manager for Oracle Food and Beverage.
“People don’t know exactly what changes they want, but they do want changes. They’ve made their desire to get back to restaurants clear, but they don’t necessarily know what needs to happen to make that something they will act on.”
Some restaurants are doing well right now, particularly those that fit well into the takeout and pick-up model, while restaurants that are more reliant on an in-person experience struggle. The middle ground is where growth is starting to happen, as restaurants take advantage of the time they’ve had to figure out how they need to change their business, for example, by introducing hybrid grocery models, creating more outdoor seating, or, like Public House, changing their operations and tweaking their menu.
Oracle Food and Beverage surveyed 2,000 people in the US and the UK to understand their pre-COVID experiences and what their attitudes are now about restaurants and eating out. Here are some other key findings from the survey.
Customers want changes that make them feel safe. The tough call for restaurant operators is deciding what will give customers that feeling of safety. Only 40% of restaurant patrons in the survey want to see contactless technology in use, 36% want to be able to pay via their personal device, and 34% want contactless payment through a kiosk or tablet. The trick, says de Montfort Walker, is to infuse visible safety indicators across the restaurant experience. “People don’t know exactly what changes they want, but they do want changes,” he says. “They’ve made their desire to get back to restaurants clear, but they don’t necessarily know what needs to happen to make that something they will act on.”
Dining habits are shifting. Sixty-three percent of restaurant customers say that their loyalties shifted during the pandemic, with 40% more loyal to local restaurants and 23% more loyal to chain restaurants. De Montfort Walker speculates that the 23% who are more loyal to chain restaurants were reacting to the fact that chains already had strong takeout processes, and that people were searching for comfort food. But almost twice as many people shifted their business to local establishments that needed their support. Market Street Public House’s Michelle Tyler felt that support. “Probably 99% of the people who got takeout were local. Some people would come in to buy a gift card that they still haven’t used. They singlehandedly kept our restaurant alive,” she says.
Customers are sympathetic to takeout stumbles. Only 30% of restaurant patrons stopped ordering takeout due to a negative experience. Among those who stopped, 30% did so because of pared-down menu options, 27% because pickup was unavailable, and 26% because delivery took too long.
Takeout has actually gone down during the pandemic. In the US, prior to the pandemic, 95% of consumers ordered takeout once a month. During the pandemic that number dropped to 88%. Once restaurants reopen, that number looks likely to drop again, with just 79% of survey respondents saying that they’ll order takeout at least once a month. De Montfort Walker attributes this number to one crucial reason: “People are eager to get back to restaurants.”
There are three stages of restaurant survival during this pandemic, says de Montfort Walker—reopening, rebuilding, and reimagining. Historic data is useless. “Our industry has hit the reset button and will need to monitor their data day-to-day to set a new, realistic baseline,” de Montfort Walker says.
Still, Tyler over at the Market Street Public House stays optimistic. The community she and her husband serve supported them when things were at their darkest. They’ve been able to reopen for some limited in-person dining during the summer and fall months, but with a laser-focus on what they need to do to keep their business alive, they’re expecting to pivot back to a mostly takeout model as winter sets in.
“We are probably going to be in this for a while, so we have to continue to be flexible, understanding, innovative, and above all make people feel comfortable,” Tyler says.
Image: Courtesy of Market Street Public House
Illustration: Wes Rowell