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The growing market of customers choosing curbside and at-home dining experiences are not going away. There’s a number of things restaurants can do to grow with these markets. From locals who want to place larger orders in advance, to visitors who want Austin food in the comfort of their vacation rental—locking in a successful way to capture these orders is essential.

I love a good local restaurant. It enriches the surrounding neighborhoods. It has a group of regulars that become a community, and there is usually an interesting story on how the place started.  Small, local eateries are the foundation of our cities, towns, and communities.

It is more than bartenders, waitstaff, and chefs. The full supply chain includes farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, local suppliers, and more.

Additionally, there is a mental health benefit many customers experience by dining in or receiving takeout. Whether it’s a parent trying to support and feed three kids while working, a stressed-out adult caring for an elderly relative, a college student who is homesick, or a family trying to escape the day-to-day stresses of life, having that local favorite plate of BBQ, pad thai, enchiladas, or sushi can often bring comfort and a bit of peace to a hectic life.

Now introduce Stage 4 pandemic restrictions and continued uncertainty around Covid variants. These are clearly outside the control of local businesses, and the only thing restaurant owners can control is the way they react. The demand for food is certainly not going away. But the question is, how do we retain customers? And how do we reach this changing market?

Three innovations to consider:

1. Plan Ahead Ordering – Increase Your Sales Predictability

If you think about some of the most successful business models, they have something in common. Predictability of sales/volume. 

For example, consider a subscription model which is everywhere from music (Pandora/Spotify) to cars (leasing) or razors (Dollar Shave Club).  How can this principle be applied to restaurants? 

Our new startup in Austin, DiscoverEats, is creating an exclusive network of locally-owned restaurants and personal chefs to provide in-home/vacation rental food options. DiscoverEats’ business model captures food orders from travelers and locals who want to plan ahead. Focusing on early-order and tourist dining markets, we expect larger transactions. And DiscoverEats only allows orders that are placed at least 24 hours in advance. We’re currently onboarding local restaurants and personal chefs in the Austin area, and are inviting all interested businesses to sign up!

2. Expand Your Target Market 

How well do you know your customer journey? What are your buyer personas? How much does each persona contribute from a sales standpoint? What is your ad spend vs. each persona? Is your ad spend generating sales revenue that provides an adequate return?

And most importantly: what are the spending trends for each persona?  This will dictate how to put together your marketing and advertising strategies.  DiscoverEats co-founder Grace McNamara says “There is an inherent focus for restaurants to capture local repeat customers in the neighborhood, but often one of the buyer personas neglected is the traveler coming to the Austin area. This buyer is typically less price sensitive, has higher dollar transactions, likes to experience the city through local food, and is heavily reliant on social channels. Capturing a piece of this market could be a great boost to local restaurants.” 

3. Consider the Commissary Kitchen for Delivery Orders

Imagine a situation where you have a steady volume of orders in advance and have captured a new market segment: travelers to Austin. These personas are expecting to enjoy the culinary experience from the comfort of their vacation rental, so why does it have to be prepared in an existing kitchen, especially if ordered well in advance?

There are several commissary or ghost kitchen models arising in town that allow you to rent time. If you have an influx of orders that you know need fulfilling in the next five to ten days, why not leverage commissary kitchens while having the existing space to focus on same-day deliveries?  Or you could reduce your footprint at your physical location as demand dictates.   

What next?

The resilience of local restaurants is vital to our community. I think back to the old saying:  “Necessity is the mother of innovation.” This is why we decided to start DiscoverEats—the changing market can become an opportunity for restaurants and chefs to reach new customers and stick to what they love. Early-order and tourist dining markets offer lots of possibility for sustained success!

Grace McNamara is a marketing and business development professional and the co-founder of DiscoverEats.