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Guest Column

Published on: Sept. 7, 2020, 12:01 a.m.
Pandemic playbook
  • It is imperative for brands to take an omni-channel view of customers. Photo credit: Wikimedia

By Smita Jatia. The author is Managing Director, Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt. Ltd

Helen Keller’s idea of ‘a bend in the road not being the end of the road unless we fail to make a turn’ is more relevant than ever for the eating out industry that’s grappling with the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

As Covid-19 has spread across the world, the eating out industry has sustained its heaviest blows. From government mandated lockdowns to a drastic change in consumer behaviour towards eating out, this year has thrown up serious challenges that necessitate some systemic changes within this sector. The collateral damage from this crisis has landed many restaurants in a volatile situation. The economic slump has further impacted spending patterns towards eating out.

As the industry braces for the new normal, the silver lining is a sea of opportunities that lies ahead of Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) to emerge stronger from this crisis. All successful organisations are guided by a strong vision and goal. In this challenging scenario, it has become even more important for organisations to persevere towards the same by empowering teams and creating a strong and frequent cadence of accountability. With an organisation that is rallying towards a shared vision, a mix of smart strategies focused on evolving customer concerns, strong technology infrastructure and long-term investments in people and processes, QSRs can turn the tide in their favour.
 
Build brand trust – Trust will be the single biggest driver of business in the new normal across all industries. For the eating out industry, brand trust for customers will primarily be driven by safety and hygiene. QSRs need to be agile in deploying world-class safety and hygiene processes and then ‘walk the talk’ by training their employees effectively. They should also invest in sustainable and clean sourcing practices so customers are assured about the ingredients of the food, where they come from and how they get there. This will go a long way in building back customer confidence and helping the industry recover faster than others.

Dogged focus on customer convenience – Customers’ worries and apprehension about prolonged external exposure are not going to go away soon. Even after the un-lockdown, customers will remain wary of stepping out for long periods of time and coming in contact with a lot of people. QSRs are best placed to innovate and find ways to reach customers where they feel safe – be it their homes, offices or even cars. Those that have a strong technology backbone need to leverage it and launch creative solutions to address customer anxieties, and offer unparalleled convenience and access to the brand, as the customers like it – be it through delivery, take-out or drive-thru.
 
Leverage the sweet spot of ‘every day value’ – Apart from health, the pandemic has also had economic repercussions, with many people staring at prolonged economic uncertainty. As a result, customer spending is going to be cautious, especially for discretionary items such as eating out. Conscious of the alleged health risks, customers will increasingly look for trusted but value for money eating destinations and the eating out trend will move towards every day value. QSRs will be in a sweet spot as customers both from road-side vendors and fine dines, will start coming to QSRs for branded, hygienic yet affordable food. So even though the size of the eating out market may shrink, the market share of QSRs that can leverage the ‘every day value’ trend to their advantage will increase.
 
Adopt a ‘Digital-first’ state of mind – It is imperative for brands to take an omni-channel view of customers. Covid-19 will probably be the strongest catalyst in driving this paradigm shift and ushering in a digital revolution in the QSR industry. QSRs must focus on building a smart and effective tech infrastructure to cater to the various evolving needs of customer both at the front-end as well as at the back-end. Whether it is enhancing the delivery experience at home, enabling contactless payments at restaurants, introducing new, safer and more convenient ways of reaching consumers in their cars or even deploying marketing campaigns, a robust digital backbone will be the strongest weapon in any QSR’s arsenal to bring their omni-channel strategy to life.
 
Invest in your people – Lastly, as the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc said, take care of your people and the business will take care of itself. Employees are your biggest brand ambassadors and the true force behind your growth. In these very uncertain and challenging times, make sure you go the extra mile to reassure your people and support them in every possible way to navigate these choppy waters. Leave no stone unturned to address their anxieties, ensure their safety and well-being and invest in their growth. If your people believe in you, you will be unstoppable.

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