Eating out is on the rise in North America. More and more people are eating out or buying prepared food to bring home. This means that restaurants have more influence on how consumers think about food than ever before. While, in South Africa, it’s a rather different story with reduced spending on eating out because of our depressed economy, we can still look at their food industry for insight into what is happening here (or might happen in the future).

Changing the way we think

According to The Conversation, Americans spend more than half of their food budget on food prepared outside the home, and this translates to more than US$800 billion a year. Canadians spend more than 30% of their food budget in restaurants translating to $80 billion. They also buy more food prepared for consumption at home. The rate of growth in restaurant spending is increasing faster than it is for shops. One important aspect of this phenomenon is that restaurants change the way consumers think about the food they buy.

How it works

Think about it. When you go to the supermarket, you have endless choices. So, you can choose the kind of egg you would like from multiple options (different sizes, brown, white, organic, free-range high Omega-3). Similarly, you can select your meat (various cuts of bacon and sausages, low sodium reduced antibiotic use, spicy or mild) and bread (regular, whole wheat, multigrain, gluten-free and low sodium).  

But you will likely only have a couple of options when you opt for a continental breakfast in a restaurant. Usually, you will choose between with or without sausages. Restaurants make choices for us, and they also tell us why they have made those choices to educate us about issues.

Because of the large amounts of business that restaurant chains drive, they can determine how food is produced. They contribute to the critical mass of demand and influence changes in food production. Restaurants and fast-food outlets can highlight the qualities of the food they have on offer in their advertising campaigns and ensure they are front of mind for consumers.

A variety of flavours

One of the main reasons many people go for the restaurant experience is to enjoy food prepared in different ways, from different countries and cultures. The prevalence of modern restaurants has exposed diners to food from all over the world. This can affect their decisions at the supermarket and how they make their food at home. Having said that, restaurant-goers will usually continue to frequent their favourite Chinese restaurant for the very reason that they don’t have the inclination to learn how to make it themselves.

There are also some who like the variety of flavours they get from restaurant dining but in the comfort of their own homes where they can satisfy their cravings by getting food kits from restaurants or online providers. Meal prep is made easier because each item is provided with easy-to-follow instructions. And, diners who are particularly worried about safety during the pandemic can find cooking at home reassuring.

Food delivery here to stay

Convenience is also a strong motivator when it comes to our food choices. The pandemic drove many consumers to try food delivery, but the convenience that this service offers is the reason why it will persist. People want all kinds of experiences (including culinary ones) to come to them whenever they want, and this is a consumer trend that will last long after Covid-19. Uber Eats and Mr D Food have gained a lot of traction during the last couple of years. Mr Yum and Quench are two new players capitalising on this trend and shaking up the food delivery industry in South Africa.

Future-proofing your restaurant business involves partnering with the right people, acquiring the correct technology and being open to change. Would you like to find out more about strategies for future-proofing your restaurant? Download our guide to learn from our experiences over the past few difficult years.

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