Catering, the way of recovery

Michele Caprini
In brief
The health emergency is forcing catering into a drastic change of pace and direction. Digital transformation is the obligatory way to react to the dramatic contingent difficulties a unique opportunity to increase operational efficiencyand definea virtuous relationship with the customer.

In Italy, the catering sector has, until yesterday, shown slowness and reluctance in the adoption of innovative technologies. But, since 2020, COVID-19 has placed a single alternative to food and beverage outlets, of anykind andsize: suffer the scourge or fight its consequences.

Change of scenario

The reality to deal with is characterized by a devastating reversal of the trend: out-of-homeconsumption, which has been growing strongly andsteadily in recent years throughout the West, has had to give way to consumption at home. In 2020, according to FIPE, there were 3 4 billion euros of losses in Italy,36% of the sector’s annual turnover. A bleak scenario, with empty or closed restaurants, last-minute bans, difficult applications of distancing rules, masks, gloves, dividers and many uncertainties.

The resumption of catering will not only concern the improvement of operations and the provision of the service and will have to be partly shaped by consumption outside the premises. You will have to redesign the physical spaces of restaurants, you will have to use a lot of technology to do catering inside and outside, where physical spaces do not exist. Subverting every scheme, if necessary, like the exclusive restaurants that take on the forms of service and delivery typical of quick service restaurants.

Catering, inside

The personalization of the experience and the enhancement of the prerogatives of the proximity point of sale will be decisive to defend your work, to retain regular and occasional customers, to find new ones. Digitalisation is the indispensable means of this. The most obvious demonstration is the inevitable strengthening of demand for touchless technologies in any retail environment; in the restaurant, the reduction or cancellation of contact times between room staff and customers.

They respond well to the purpose, for example, digital menus, which can be accessed with a QR code. More generally, touchless means consulting the menu, making an order and paying without moving from the table. In this regard, in 2020, according to Mastercard, contactless payments grew by 25% compared to 2019. Enabling mobile and digital payment options is an absolute necessity for operators in the sector such as, moreover, integrating online ordering via app and managing the delivery of preferred food on site or at home. All this, without physical contact points. At the center of everything, the smartphone; and waiting for a different use of the voice, of course.

Catering, outside

Big food delivery platforms, for restaurants that cannot directly offer ordering and delivery services, are an important card to play. Almost four out of ten Italians order meals at home from their phone or pc(Coldiretti-Censis),and you cannot avoid this marked propensity to consume. In Italy, food delivery accounts for one third of total online food handling and two-thirds of the population are now potentially reachable by the service (POLIMI Observatory). The world market, on the other hand, is expected to grow from $107 billion in 2019 to $154 billion in 2023, with an annual growth rate of 11.51%. TheBusiness Research Company. Through the platforms or proprietary apps, home food is another necessary step in service customization and retention. Having the right tools to make your workflow linear and homogeneous, from dish preparation to payment and, finally, delivery man is more than an opportunity.

Catering, over

The demand for quality services and engaging experiences is among the reasons that make it necessary to take a further step, to make the restaurant a living entity of its territory. This step is digital marketing. The availability of a functional and professional website, with a simple and clear design, reachable from multiple points of presence, direct and indirect, on the internet can significantly increase the conversion of visits.

Some food delivery trends already highlight future patterns of catering, where data collection will be central. DoorDash, an industry leader in the United States (with a 45% share of the market), recently launched Storefront, a technology platform that allows restaurants to create their own websites, to accept delivery and pick-up orders and get the best customer profiling.

Offer and promotion are not enough if not properly disseminated and made available to other apps for orders, reservations or deliveries. Booking a table on the phone is now becoming anachronistic. With online booking, you can manage seating, waiting lists, menu preferences, customer loyalty, and collecting any information useful to the business relationship.

Acting with digital marketing tools means getting lower costs and better returns. Digital advertising campaigns have a wide scope, they are easy to target even on smaller and easier-to-measure user niches; on the contrary, traditional advertising is more difficult to evaluate in results and, usually, slower to acquire them.

Social media

A skilled social media presence is central to restaurant communication strategy; it’s an effective and cost-effective form of digital marketing and one of the most powerful means of building and defending the identity and reputation of the sign. As of January 2021, there were 41 million social media users in Italy, 2.2 million more than in 2020, and 68% of the population (Hootsuite).

Audiences between the age of 18 and 35 spend a lot of time looking at pictures of food on social media; much of this target is not oriented to a restaurant if communication is not sufficiently qualified. In the face of this massive orientation of the potential public, it is not possible to lose pace. If each follower can become a customer, each customer may prefer another place, if the presence on the web or social media is anonymous or inconstant.

To drive away the ghosts of the crisis and undertake recovery, you need good food and many loyal customers. Possible, without wasting time, if the technologies and those who manage them are adequate for the need.