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Operations

Why restaurants should balance value, quality and social responsibility

Photograph: Shutterstock

The pandemic threw the restaurant industry for a loop, presenting challenge after challenge to operators, who in turn have spent the past year pivoting and innovating in an attempt to stay afloat. Now, as things begin to make their way back to some sense of normalcy, operators will need to remain tuned in to industry trends and consumer preferences to continue succeeding. Over the past year, consumers’ definition of value has shifted to include factors such as safety and convenience, and their definition of quality has expanded to include characteristics such as how employees are treated. Beyond value and quality, though, operators have to incorporate a third strategy into their plans—social responsibility. Keeping abreast of these trends will be critical for longevity—here’s why.

Younger consumers’ definition of value has changed

Among Gen Z and millennials, the concept of spending more money for a brand name food or beverage has become increasingly appealing—in Q2 2019, 52% of Gen Z and 57% of millennials said they agreed it was worth it to do so, but as of Q3 2020, 54% of Gen Z and 65% of millennials say so. Among Gen X and baby boomers, those numbers have also gone up, representing an increase of 2% for Gen X and 1% for boomers, according to Technomic research presented in partnership with McCain Foods in the Jan. 14, 2021 webinar “Restaurant Resilience: From Off-Premise Challenges to Engaging a Changed Consumer.”

In other words, value remains important, yet across generations, price sensitivity has not increased throughout the pandemic. This means operators have the opportunity to bolster success by continuing to service high quality menu items at a fair price—and that offering brand name options can be a big help.

“Quality” means more

Technomic research found that food quality is the No. 1 consumer consideration when choosing where to dine—93% say it’s important when selecting a restaurant for an order or occasion. But restaurants have a big challenge—improving quality while keeping prices in check. Consumer expectations are higher, and their expectations include, at times, paying more for higher quality options, so operators can meet this need with a tiered approach. That is, offering several options at varying price points with a range of available upcharges such as premium toppings or a meal deal.

Even as consumers look for higher quality options, though, operators will need to balance the value equation, which is why offering a barbell or tiered approach can be helpful. By offering foods that all offer a baseline of “quality” with more expensive options featuring even higher quality choices, even consumers who are looking for the lowest price will be satisfied.

Social responsibility is no longer just a bonus—it’s a must-have

Across all generations, the importance that a restaurant is socially responsible has gone up over the past year. Among Gen Z, 64% said it was important in 2019 compared to 68% in 2020. For millennials, the numbers went from 60% to 71%—nearly three quarters of millennials—and for Gen X, 56% to 61%. Baby boomers also reported an increase—in 2019, 50% said restaurants’ social responsibility was important to them, and in 2020, that number jumped to 60%.­­

Consumers also want restaurants to weigh in on diversity and equality issues, such as their commitment to creating a more inclusive and just world, as well as taking a stand against racial inequality. About half—47%—of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that they know is taking steps toward inclusivity, and 42% say they’re more likely to visit a restaurant that takes a stand against racial inequality.

Some examples of brands turning up their social responsibility initiatives include &Pizza closing their stores on Election Day to give employees the opportunity to vote, and Noodles & Co. upgrading their benefits package for employees.

In 2021, health, safety and social responsibility are non-negotiable. Restaurants who strive to keep up with these trends, as well as providing a tiered value option and upgrading their options for quality, stand to edge out competitors who choose not to do so. By keeping current, operators ensure future success.

For the latest insights, LTO menu ideas and exclusive offers, get the To-Go Guide from McCain today.

This post is sponsored by McCain Foods

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