A monumental shift in food service

COVID-19 disrupted all types of industries—but foodservice was one of the fastest to adapt because of necessity. Most establishments were forced to build new operational models to prioritize delivery and takeout.

In May 2019, only 23% of American consumers had used an app to order from a restaurant. But as restaurants closed for dining this year, behavior had shifted by March and April 2020. Of consumers who ordered from a restaurant online or with an app, 36.4% chose pickup and 23.4% chose delivery.

Untitled design (15)-1

Although restaurants are starting to re-open, many are being forced to close indoor dining due to increases in COVID-19 across the country.

Epsilon research published in September shows that only about 18% of consumers look to the government for assurance that it’s safe to dine in again—down from 40% in an earlier iteration of this report that was published in June. Today, immunity from either a past infection or vaccination is increasingly important for consumers to feel safe returning to restaurants.

All signs point to a continued reliance on delivery and takeout. This article highlights four key takeaways for restaurants to consider as we take a step back to examine initial and ongoing COVID-19 changes in consumer behavior.

1. Have a delivery and takeout program.

If restaurants choose to partner with a delivery service, focus on the best option for their market. Take a look at the most popular delivery services by city:

Most popular delivery services by city - June 2020

Restaurants should focus on reaching and acquiring customers predisposed to delivery and takeout across two primary audiences:

  • Net-new customers that are prone to delivery and carryout
  • Loyal guests who haven’t ordered delivery or pickup before

As brands bring in new customers and digitally engage with existing ones, they need to start building and activating that new customer data. Organizing the data based on who they are, what they like and what they order will enable restaurant brands to personalize each message based on customers’ past preferences and order history.

2. Try contactless ordering and prepayment.

These technologies can streamline kitchen operations, minimize interactions with staff, turn tables faster and reduce no-shows. Our research has shown that the majority of consumers actually prefer ordering online/through a mobile app and picking up curbside over using a delivery service.

Dunkin’ is a great example of a retailer that has built contactless loyalty by establishing a safe process for ordering. Check out how the coffee company encourages ongoing contactless engagement with clear steps, pickup convenience, user interface and more.

When it comes to contactless ordering, taking additional steps will ease customers’ minds and show the brand truly values customers' time and safety:

  • Automate customer experience pain points.
  • Make sure signage is updated, employees are educated and  have the proper resources.
  • Consider the technologies and partnerships that can be implemented quickly improve the experience.

Read more: Contactless loyalty: Build connections in a contactless world


Epsilon research indicates that there's been a slight decrease in ordering takeout, likely due to consumers adjusting to cooking at home. With that in mind, it’s now more important than ever for restaurant brands to continue offering family-style or value-based takeout options, as seen in our third takeaway.

3. Expand offerings.

Consumers want new offerings from their favorite local places, including meal kits, pantry items, cocktail kits and curated wine packages. Grub Street reports that Russ & Daughters, a New York-based shop and restaurant that has 50 years of experience mailing brunch packages, has seen a whopping 400% increase in shipping sales since COVID-19 hit.

But knowing which people want what offerings is crucial. A young couple without kids, say, won't likely benefit from a family-size meal kit advertisement, but perhaps they would appreciate a fun cocktail kit to welcome in the weekend.

Knowing customers on a 1:1 level allows restaurants to most effectively connect with customers and meet their unique needs, thus ultimately leading to more orders. And all of the rich data gleaned from delivery and takeout orders will give restaurant brands a deeper understanding of their guests and form the foundation for future marketing efforts.

Read more: The power of identity—what restaurants can learn from Forrester’s research


4. Stay connected.

Get the word out about new offerings across channels—and repeat messaging with ongoing promotions.

Our research indicates that consumers want to learn about the updated dining experience from their favorite restaurants. Communicating how the brand is keeping consumers safe is essential.

And while email is still critically important, the pandemic has caused an influx of it and expanding beyond the channel is crucial. Display advertising is an efficient option to bypass crowded inboxes and extend your messaging across channels, while still maintaining the attention of your guests. Display advertising is also helpful for:

  • Allowing on-the-fly updates: Digital ad formats can adapt to the changing needs of consumers. The dynamic structure of these ads brings your message to life, supports ongoing LTO offers and gives you the ability to quickly adapt your messaging—all while remaining practical.
  • Creating accountability with 1:1 measurement: Budgets are tight, and marketing is under a lot of pressure to prove results right now. Customer-based digital media with closed-loop individual-level measurement enables you to confidently report back to your stakeholders.

CORE Content Issue 1 Promotion

Image credit: gerenme/Getty Images

Sources: Consumer Sentiment During COVID-19, Epsilon, June 2020; Diner Survey, Tock, May 2020; Which Company Is Winning the Food Delivery War?, Second Measure, June 2020