Non-traditional brands play role in restaurant industry recovery

The restaurant industry is more than 100,000 smaller units than it was in March 2020, when lockdown orders were first put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other headlines were equally grim. The industry has experienced $240 billion in lost salesfor example, as well as rent deferrals, furloughs, layoffs and bankruptcies, employees facing harassmentworkers’ increased risk to contract the Covid-19 virus and a shortage of relief funds.

Despite this relentless crisis, however, we are now seeing signs of an industry rising from the ashes. Sales are recovering and efforts put in place to survive last year, such as off-site channels, are contributing to strong tailwinds.

And, above all, new players have not hesitated to enter the space despite its vulnerability. In recent months, for example, YouTuber MrBeast, reality TV star Pauly D, pop star Mariah Carey, hip-hop star Wiz Khalifa and celebrity chef Guy Fieri have all launched virtual restaurant concepts. .

These personalities are undoubtedly big enough to generate both buzz and sales and, in fact, MrBeast’s MrBeast Burger concept has sold a whopping million burgers in less than three months.

In particular, the return of the industry attracts more than great personalities. Big brands also play a role. Last month, for example, NASCAR launched Fuel up on NASCARa delivery-only concept featuring menu items from 12 NASCAR tracks across the country.

Pepsi launched Pep’s Place in May, a virtual concept that existed for the entire month that encouraged consumers to choose their favorite drink to see the wine pairings offered for ordering and delivery.

Pepsi is of course no stranger to the restaurant industry, supplying giants like KFC, Taco Bell, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. But now seemed like a good time to give the beverage line a bigger role, according to Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s vice president of marketing.

“Launching Pep’s Place at a time when people are already experimenting with new behaviors, services and rituals as they see a ‘new normal’, has allowed us to leverage the ghost kitchen trend to maximize reach at nationwide with a high degree of confidence in successful execution,” Kaplan said.

Not only is Pepsi taking advantage of the pandemic-induced acceleration of certain trends, but the company is also tapping into pent-up consumer demand for experiences.

“While the past year hasn’t been the only inspiration for the creation of Pep’s Place, we recognize that it has been challenging for both our consumers and our partners, so we were delighted to bring them some something new and innovative that was ultimately a fun and memorable experience,” Kaplan said.

Pepsi leaned into the emerging virtual kitchen space because it’s more cost-effective compared to a physical investment. Indeed, the space has grown significantly over the past year and provided a much-needed revenue channel for a number of restaurants in difficulty.

There’s no doubt that this lower entry point also allows for more risk taking, which is why so many players are jumping in. However, more non-traditional brands are also expanding into physical spaces.

OpenTable, for example, recently announced its first restaurant, which will serve as an “innovation lab” in Miami. The company will use customer data to develop new technology that could personalize experiences through its restaurant partners.

Magician Criss Angel plans to open a new fast-casual restaurant in the Las Vegas market called Cablp – short for Criss Angel’s breakfast, lunch and pizza. The concept will include a restaurant, walk-in window and take-out, according to Eater Las Vegas.

Then there’s Kingsford Charcoal, a backyard barbecue staple, which is opening its first-ever restaurant, called Kingsford Fire Grille, in Tampa in July. The 7,900-square-foot restaurant offers a menu centered around its charcoal brand, like hand-cut steaks, seafood, and a Caesar salad with grilled romaine. It will also include make-your-own s’mores, a charcoal centerpiece, and a designated area for special events. If there is any sign that the industry is feeling confident about a recovery, it is to build on such experiential elements.

This list of debutants is surely not complete and other non-traditional players will no doubt appear in the restaurant space as he positions himself for a comeback. One of those players might even be Elon Musk, according to rumors.

After more than a year spent mostly at home or accessing food through a drive-thru chain, consumers seem to be craving such ingenuity. In the meantime, these new concepts also prove that from a crisis comes creativity.


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Cecil N. Messick