QSR Automations COVID-19 Operator Survey: Results
What we wanted to Know
COVID-19 has walloped the restaurant industry — you’ve been reading it for the last three months! But terms like “hit hard” and “unprecedented times” become rote when we say them nonstop. With this survey, we wanted to assign some “faces” to these anxieties and break down exactly how the pandemic affected, and will continue to affect, restaurant operators.
Facts help make problems tangible, rather than growing, amorphous anxieties that overwhelm us. It’s why we’ve been collecting COVID-19 Restaurant operator data since March! When we know what we’re up against, we can make a plan. Ultimately, we hope that our Survey helped restaurant operators find solidarity with other operators enduring the same challenges, and contextualize the pandemic’s effect in concrete terms and numbers.
How We Collected the Data
To collect this data, we polled restaurant operators with a survey. We encouraged operators to take it via our social media channels, email, and our blog. One hundred fifty-seven respondents did so. This article summarizes some of our findings from that data.
COVID-19’s Biggest Challenges
Of our respondents, the majority cited a revenue loss as the leading obstacle during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this might seem obvious (is this not every business’s principal objective?), it goes to show the massive, wide-scale stranglehold that COVID-19 put on operators.
It’s also important to note that of our respondents, 86 (54.78%) identified their restaurant type as “Independent.” With such thin margins, any revenue loss is monumental, but for a smaller business without corporate backing, they’re quick and deadly.
The remaining rankings were a much more even split between the respondents. 40% of them voted for Shifting Roles and Responsibilities as their second most challenging obstacle, 30% for Off-Premise pivoting in third, 31% for Cleanliness and Safety in 4th, and 40% Recreating Menu Items in 5th. While problems are widespread, revenue losses lead by a country mile.
Top 6 Strategies Employed to maintain day to day Operations.
- Delivery/takeout – 71.34%
- Contactless – 31.85%
- Groceries – 7%
- LTO – 21.66%
- Closed (to flatten the curve) – 36.31%
- Curbside / Order Ahead – 46%
- Meal kits – 8.3%
- Digital Market – 4.17%
Surviving the pandemic meant adapting, or pivoting, to other strategies while dine-in traffic ground to a halt. The overwhelming majority of our respondents pivoted into off-premise strategies like delivery and takeout. These strategies were likely already adjacent to what they were doing, and with some technology, they could transition smoothly.
The next biggest group closed their restaurants completely, as a way to flatten the curve. Contactless delivery proved to be a popular option as it still allowed for restaurants to engage pickup or delivery (which they may or may not have already been doing before the pandemic) with only a few modifications.
The least popular response was “other,” which might seem like a wide berth but includes Curbside and order ahead technology, meal kits, and a digital marketer. Though these options are viable to those operators with the resources, they might be a little unorthodox. These priorities could undoubtedly shift in the coming months.
Essential Technology for the Pandemic (By order of importance)
- Online ordering
- Social Media
- Customer communications
- Contactless technology
In times of Pandemic, many operators found themselves leaning on technology more than ever, especially amid high turnover, stress, and uncertainties. Of our respondents, most ranked online ordering their primary technological focus. Again, this makes sense as they were able to move laterally from their operations to something off-premise. Delivery follows, with social media being the third.
With so many people home, social media engagement surely rose during the pandemic. Many restaurant operators used it as a business tool for more productive purposes results during the lockdown.
Those technologies that follow, contactless solutions, and curbside ordering, reflect the newfound consciousness in how the virus spreads between people.
Technology will continue to play a significant role in restaurant operations. Even in that (hopefully) future post-quarantine and lockdown, off-premise dining will be a primary revenue-driver for restaurants.
Upon a reopen (whatever that might look like!) we asked respondents to rank the following as their primary focus, from “very important” to “not important”:
- Hiring and Employee Retention – 38.46%
- Winning Foot Traffic with Dine-In Promotions: 46.15%
- Creating Standard Operating Procedure (SOP’s) to focus on safety/cleanliness: 43.95%
- Continuing to streamline takeout and delivery options: 34.62
- Digitalizing Services through technology: 33.55%
The most significant percentage of respondents (46.1%) identified Winning Foot Traffic with Dine-In promotions as “very important.” Operators are anxious to get guests back through their doors and onto the floor! To do that, many will depend on exclusive offers, limited time promotions, and good ol’ fashioned “absence makes the heart grow fonder” psychology.
The next highest “very important” group (43.95%) was for Creating SOP’s that emphasized cleanliness. We found this statistic heartening, as it showcases a proactive approach to mitigating infection and a general health-conscious attitude. “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure,” as they say.
Employee Retention came in third as 38% of respondents marked this “very important.” Indeed, restaurant employee retention is challenging in its own right, let alone during all the intricacies of a global pandemic. It’s likely that other principles, like SOPs and streamlined workflows, will help in this regard, as it creates a more stable work environment for employees, diminishing the risk of burnout and turnover.
Rounding out the category came digitalizing services through technology (33.55%) and Streamlining takeout and delivery options (34.62%).
Areas of Improvement or Where They’re Excelling
- Off-Premise – 14.6%
- Operations/Revenue – 8.3%
- Cleanliness – 4.5%
- Other – 9.5% (Staffing, Training, Tech)
- No improvement – 51%
When we asked respondents about any areas in which they’re improving or excelling since the pandemic, more than half of them indicated no improvement. This number might seem a little alarming in “normal” circumstances, but in a time where most businesses are having to compromise their operations, it’s not surprising to see that many haven’t “hit their groove” yet. We certainly appreciate the transparency and see it as an indication that we’ve still much to learn as the situation develops.
Of those who did see improvements, off-premise dining saw the highest response, with 14.6% indicating positive achievements in this area. This lead isn’t that surprising considering how many of our respondents were already using this technology before lockdown. We can probably conclude that some operators got to put that technology to the test, and it’s likely they were able to iterate on their workflow there. Another interesting statistic is those who indicated “others.” These initiatives included everything from improved training protocols, staffing procedures, and technology.
We’re not calling them “silver linings” but instead “unexpected wins.”
What We Can Conclude from our COVID-19 Operator Survey
Though we didn’t necessarily need a survey to tell us, we can conclude that virtually no restaurant segment or operators have made it through unscathed. The pandemic has rocked everything to its foundation, prompting a total restructuring.
Pivoting, i.e., adapting with a new business model, proved to be the most effective way to generate income during the pandemic, namely focusing on off-premise services like delivery and takeout. Restaurant technology showed an enormous help to operators during the epidemic, but it also suggests that we aren’t totally in the clear. As we reopen, we’re still going to see these same obstacles and opportunities.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick was the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.