How to Compete with Home-Cooked Meals

Consumers have made the switch to cooking most meals at home during quarantine. By the end of the COVID-19 crisis (whenever that may be), the homecooking habit will have ingrained itself in more households than ever. As a restaurant owner, how can you compete and earn back your customers? 

According to an article by QSR magazine, the biggest hurdle will be retraining customers to break their newly-adopted habits. To change habits permanently, it takes two to three repeats. However, the home-cooked meal habit has been building for months, so restaurants will have to get creative beyond price adjustments and promotions to win back customers. Home-cooked meals are perceived as safer and more convenient during this time, and though a significant population is eager to eat out once again, consumer intentions and views of the industry will not be the same. As restrictions lift, restaurant owners must understand new consumer expectations to meet the demands of the comeback. 

In a detailed study by Simon-Kucher & Partners, food taste and quality will remain as the two most important factors for consumers, but unsurprisingly, a third factor has risen: sanitation. And it’s not enough to simply have cleanliness standards in place. To gain positive public perception, restaurants need to double down on communication to prove they are safe spaces 

The study also anticipates that purchase criteria will be a deciding factor for consumers post-COVID: people will be more deliberate about where they spend their money once emerging from quarantine. However, though price is important, there won’t be less willingness to pay. While sanitation is a new determinant, enthusiasm will also increase for healthier options and menu variety.  

People will also be willing to spend more on dinner, reflecting a desire to celebrate special occasions once the pandemic is under control. After being cooped up in the house for months, many crave the old norm of gathering for an evening dinner. 

However, more consumers will continue to ditch in-store ordering for mobile apps and online orderingThough many are eager to get out of the house, most will still prefer to eat at home due to convenience and lingering safety concerns. Delivery options will remain popular, and demand for takeout is not going vanish any time soon. 

In order to stay on top of these predicted behaviors, restaurants must view the current climate not as a temporary measure, but as a transformative period. Consumer behaviors are fluctuating, and in order to compete with home-cooked meals, restaurants must expand their in-house delivery capabilities as well as look into more targeted, at-home communications for customers.  

Quick-service restaurants have been particularly hard-hit by the health crisis. A post by McKinsey & Company recommends the following long-term considerations as QSRs draw customers back outfocus on hygiene and safety, expand digital and delivery options, launch grocery product lines or B2B catering, and increase focus on supply-chain management. For many restaurants, these considerations will require flexibility, preserving loyal customers while attracting new ones, and building on their strengths to stay afloat.