African American woman smiling with a lunch sandwich in her hand at a restaurant.

With  half of all US adults fully vaccinated as of June 2021, the restaurant industry is seeing encouraging signs that customers are ready to spend their money on the  meaningful culinary experiences  they’ve missed over the last year. In fact, according to a  MasterCard  press release, spending at US restaurants is even up from pre-pandemic levels, increasing 6 percent over 2019. And as restaurants begin to transition back to full capacity, here are four ways you can make the most of the diner spending surge.

CREATE EXCLUSIVE DINE-IN EXPERIENCES

A May 2020 Rewards Network Survey found that 60% of diners are eager to dine out once they feel safe doing so. And welcoming them back with experiences that can’t be replicated at home may bring even more to dine in. This could include exclusive menu items that don’t travel well, to-go being prioritized on the menu, table-side menu item experiences that bring the cooks to the table, live entertainment or even rewarding your most loyal guests who supported your restaurant during the pandemic with a free app or dessert for dining in.

REVISIT YOUR DINE-IN MENU

As we’ve covered in the past about streamlining menus for to-go orders, now is a great time to re-evaluate your menu for in-restaurant dining. This doesn’t necessarily mean investing in new hardcopy menus either, as customers have grown accustom to viewing menus on their phone with apps like The Paperless Menu.  But it does mean focusing on menu items that are best enjoyed fresh from the kitchen, such as old favorites removed during the pandemic, re-evaluating or introducing high-margin menu items that didn’t travel well as to-go orders, or even introducing new comfort food recipes that have been trending since the pandemic. 

GET THE TABLES READY

According to restaurant.org, restaurants in almost all US states will be returning to full capacity by mid-June (if they haven’t already). Which means it’s also a great time to reevaluate your seating arrangement. This could mean introducing larger tables for group seating as diners are eager to get out to eat with those they’ve missed, or changing up the layout of your restaurant with more tables spaced closer than 6 feet apart. And if you’re one of the many restaurants with an outdoor seating space, don’t forget to make adjustments for capacity there as well.

KEEP TAKE OUT ON THE MENU

According to The Wall Street Journal, the pandemic has rapidly accelerated the growth for food delivery companies like DoorDash, UberEats and GrubHub. But it’s not just delivery. According to the same LendingTree survey, spending on food away from home, including at restaurants and on takeout, increased by 23.1% between April 2020 and January 2021. And that’s outpaced even the rise consumers are spending on groceries. With to-go and delivery here to stay for many consumers, now is a great time to evaluate how your restaurant handles orders for efficiency. Whether that means a dedicated to-go menu, a streamlined mobile ordering and pick up experience, a separate to-go kitchen, dedicated to-go only parking or creating a drive through for your restaurant. 

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