By Stephanie Resendes, Upserve by Lightspeed

As 2020 threw constant curveballs at the restaurant and hospitality industry, we saw owners, event planners, chefs, and staff get more creative than ever to help their businesses stay afloat. At Upserve by Lightspeed, we gathered insights from our thousands of customers around the US and spoke to 11 hospitality owners and operators to find out their secrets for finding success amidst a pandemic. 

2020 Restaurant Holiday Trends

Guests are still determined to celebrate holidays with a restaurant meal despite the pandemic. Whether they opt for to-go or dine-in options, there are a few unique trends we are seeing around holidays.

For popular restaurant holidays like Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, we are seeing a spike in sales up to 306% both in-house dining and for online orders. However, since people are patronizing restaurants less due to both government restrictions and personal finances, there is an above-average drop in sales in the 48 hours following each holiday. The only outlier here was Thanksgiving, which saw a significant drop in sales on the Friday after but went back up to the week-over-week average for most restaurants due to the long weekend; we expect the same or similar situation for New Year’s Eve weekend 2020.

While restaurant event planners can’t do much to avoid the 48-hour drop off, there are a few steps you can take to take advantage of the day-of holiday spikes to help offset the dip.

  • Ramp up your marketing efforts. Whether you are doing a socially distanced in-house event, virtual event, or offering a special holiday menu, start getting the word out about three weeks in advance. Promote it regularly on social media up until the actual holiday to keep your business top-of-mind as guests plan their holiday.
  • Offer incentives for to-go preordering. In the same way that it’s easier to prepare for a night of service with reservations, offering pre-orders on New Year’s Eve to-go orders will help you gauge interest and be better prepared for the evening. Plus, it’s harder for guests to change their minds last minute. Entice them to preorder with perks like a small bottle of champagne, free appetizer, or gift card for future use.
  • Get creative by bringing events into guests’ homes. Events like trivia or live music are just not possible now with capacity restrictions. Bring the entertainment into guests’ homes when they order from you by offering a board game with purchase, hosting a virtual trivia game, or even live-streaming a musician from your dining room. 

2020 Restaurant Menu and Ordering Trends

As small businesses try to stay afloat and consumers look for comforting budget-conscious options, trending menu items have shifted from unique and adventurous to simple and satisfying. Whether your current restaurant events are in-house or online, the food they center around should be inexpensive and comforting to appeal to the current demand. 

Online ordering menu trends

From fine dining to quick service, restaurants had to meet consumer demands while also simplifying their menus and adapting items to retain quality for to-go orders. 

In-house dining menu trends

While there was a good amount of overlap in online ordering and dine-in menu trends for 2020, we found that guests wanted to experience big-ticket menu items at a restaurant more than at home, particularly ones that are best eaten fresh from the kitchen like seafood, steaks, and roasts.

How Three Small Businesses Continue to Innovate Throughout the Pandemic

Canlis – Seattle, Wash.

 

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For event inspiration, see how the team at Seattle fine-dining legend Canlis has been constantly innovating this year. They have been leaders in creative outside-the-box thinking when it comes to safe pandemic events, from live streaming a piano player from their dining room to a drive-in movie theater concept and, currently, private dining yurts in their parking lot. 

In addition to their creative guest-driven concepts, each new iteration of Canlis comes with a side of community service. “You can see whole communities that are starting to crumble, including our own industry,” said Amanda Sullivan, Canlis’ Dining Room Manager. “Finding a way to give to charity and just keep our doors open has been a huge guiding light.”

House of Oliver – Roseville, Calif.

In addition to expanding offerings to lunch, coffee, and dinner, Matthew Oliver, owner of the wine bar House of Oliver, took his marketing to the next level in order to bring in more orders and help his business survive. With events, local partnerships, and promotions, he’s kept House of Oliver in the local news and top of mind for hungry local customers. 

When his daughters pointed out a new social media trend of people eating meals on Instagram Live, the restaurateur started eating new menu items live on camera and the videos went viral, delivering him a mountain of new online ordering customers. “I would just be eating a sandwich, talking to people, like we’re all stuck at home,” said Oliver. “People are like, ‘Oh my God, look at that sandwich. I’m so hungry!’ And then they’d order it.”

“Stay innovative, get creative, stay relevant, and grind,” is Oliver’s advice to other restaurant owners. “Come up with another idea. Make a reason to be on the news. Not only is it free advertising, but it creates value to your local community.”

Eavesdrop Brewery – Manassas, Va.

Eavesdrop Brewery is a craft microbrewery with a tasting room that seats about 80 people and ample outdoor space. General Manager Sam Madden credits their ability to keep the business up and running to their marketing efforts and outdoor events.

During the first round of shutdowns, Eavesdrop survived on to-go sales of cans alone. Once they were able to open at 50% capacity, the Eavesdrop team utilized their large outdoor space with socially distanced events like trivia and rooftop yoga. However, once they reopened, they were selling out of beer faster than they could make it.

Since reopening, they have decided to stop all to-go orders and only focus on in-house guests.

“It definitely sucks when people are asking. It kind of tears my heart out when I have to say no, but it is what it is,” said Madden. “We have to keep everything on-site or we would just run out of beer completely.” This has created somewhat of a “good problem” for the Eavesdrop team; as they get ready to winterize their outdoor space and adjust for the colder weather, they are also shopping around for a new brewhouse to keep up with the demand.

Download Upserve by Lightspeed’s 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry Report for menu trends, sales trends, real restaurant stories, and more.

Stephanie is a Providence, RI native and eight-year food industry veteran. As Upserve by Lightspeed’s Content Marketing Coordinator, she creates materials that help restaurateurs, managers, and service professionals succeed. 

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