As more casual restaurants and eateries begin resembling their fast-food cousins, how are high-end dining establishments staying afloat? Many are not, but quite a few have pivoted to capture market share with off-premises options that are squeezing competitors out. Will this change the face of food in the future? Let’s explore!

Delivery with a Twist of Lime

While the economy continues to feel the effects of COVID-19, with unemployment and furloughs at an all-time high, upscale restaurants around the globe are finding themselves placed on the backburner.


As reported in the LA Times, “In some ways, the coronavirus shutdown has been the great equalizer as restaurants of all kinds fight to stay afloat and adapt to unfamiliar ways of doing business. Suddenly, no matter the price point, restaurants across the board are faced with bills to pay, workers to let go, suppliers to support, kitchens full of food and no answers on when it will all end.”  As the restaurant industry scrambles to accommodate growing consumer needs and capture some piece of the market, restaurants are shifting to take out and curbside service – with fine dining establishments following suit.


Realizing the need to reach all palates and budgets, or face the chopping block, many chefs are creating new menu items and family-friendly meals to tempt even the tiniest of taste buds.  CNN Travel reports, “Casa Tua Cucina in Miami is among this group. The restaurant’s to-go menu includes comfort food dishes such as a variety of pizzas, paninis and pastas, along with salads, for less than $20.”


Instagrammer Kimia Kalbasi agrees – “Regardless of who places the order, offering take-out at somewhat reduced prices – at least compared to local prices – allows high-end restaurants to stay in touch with their customers, gain new ones and engage with the local community all at the same time.”

Smart marketing, yes. In times like these, dining establishments have to be willing to be creative to drive business. But the question remains – if a restaurant creates it, will the people order it? Our analysis shows an overwhelming yes!

Consumers Expanding Eating Repertoire

Recognizing that fine dining is not what most people need during this time, eateries have been quick to expand menus and clientele. CNN Travel agrees – “Regardless of who’s doing the ordering, offering to-go food at somewhat reduced prices — at least in comparison to on-site pricing — allows upscale eateries to stay in touch with their customers, win some new ones and engage with the local community all the same time.” And consumers seem to be loving the wide variety of choices, prices, and menu items.


Using our social media listening tools, we can see the sentiment word cloud  for “Ruth’s Chris Steak House” and “take out” generating exceptionally positive results:


And it’s not just curbside delivery that foodies are loving. The opportunity to explore and try new restaurants that they typically would not get take out from has resonated strongly with many consumers.


In the last month alone, since COVID-19 lockdown began, there have been over 39 million posts and mentions regarding food. A snapshot of consumer conversations using a social listening tool shows what people are craving, cooking, ordering, eating, and posting on social media.


Smart brands are able to use this information to alert them to trends and alter their marketing (and dish creating!) to reflect the needs of the consumer.

And it’s not just about what’s trending now that’s important – restaurants also need to be able to analyze shifting sentiment and concerns – and dip into untapped markets.

Finding Food White Space

While tapping into more budget and palate friendly menu items has certainly helped the bottom line (and bellies) for many dining establishments, they mustn’t stop there. The restaurant industry needs to be aware of growing concerns among the population as COVID-19 continues to threaten our way of life.


For those facing unemployment and furloughs, eating out is still a luxury many cannot afford. And yet, as grocery stores continue to deal with scarcity and food hoarders, these same individuals are having to look to restaurants and delivery services to survive.


Health and nutrition continue to be concerns, as weeks of sedentary lifestyles and heavy dishes take their toll on waistlines. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, conversations around eating disorders are becoming more prevalent.

A recent article on BuzzFeedNews.com claimed, “There’s constant talk about food: Restaurants are closing, grocery stores are struggling to keep food in stock, and public health experts are encouraging people to buy shelf-stable products and make meals at home.”


Smart brands need to be aware of these increasing concerns and find a way to market to the unmet population. Perhaps they could offer healthier alternatives or multiple versions of popular dishes, making meals more affordable for lower income families, or contributing to local food banks and feeding programs.

Check, Please!

No one knows what the economic ramifications of COVID-19 will be – or when life will resemble anything close to normal again. Or even if it will. Now is not the time for restaurants to become too distracted with profit, though it’s hard not to be when the lights are about to go off. The name of the game is adapting as society shifts, and staying on top of real-time consumer conversations and attitudes is really the only way. Reach out and learn more about social listening tools.


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