• John Ennis

Eye on AI - April 9th, 2021

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

This week, we’ll be delving into ways AI is addressing the restaurant industry’s post-pandemic shift to off-premise meals, including new VR food marketing methods and a warning for post-pandemic on-premise retailers.


Enjoy!


Off-Premise Dining Is Here to Stay



While the pandemic may be ending, the contactless tech that accelerated with it is here to stay. Take off-premises dining, which has increased significantly during the pandemic. In-person dining may see a slight resurgence as the population gets more fully vaccinated. But with tech accelerating and simplifying the off-premise dining experience, it’s hard to see on-premise dining returning to pre-pandemic form.


On top of that, a recent OpenTable survey showed that 91% of respondents expected restaurants to continue offering enhanced off-premise dining options like delivery and takeout after the pandemic. Smart restaurant owners had been moving toward off-premise dining before the pandemic, but the pandemic was a potent accelerant.


“Long before COVID-19, the National Restaurant Association predicted that the bulk of restaurant sales would come from off-premises formats by 2030,” writes The Spoon’s Jennifer Marston. “The pandemic just accelerated that timeline.”

Companies best prepared for contactless business pre-pandemic showed the highest returns during the pandemic. With restaurants, higher profits most often correlated to those chains that offered the fastest, most efficient off-premises dining experiences, which is why many quick-serve fast-food chains saw their pandemic profits soar while most experiential sit-down chains and mom and pop restaurants did not.


Future Marketing Rises to Meet Off-Premise Demand



Off-premise options are not only essential for restaurant growth during the pandemic, but retail growth overall. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, Shopify, and Facebook have been in hyper-growth mode ever since the pandemic began, largely due to the off-premises models they were built upon. After the pandemic forced consumers to accelerate off-premises experiences, those companies best positioned to meet that off-premise demand saw the highest profits.


Smart marketers that recognized this shift have begun moving toward interactive, off-premise marketing. We touched on a few of these, such as Wild Turkey’s Alexa-led whiskey tasting, in previous Eye on AI posts; however, in reading the Science Meets Food article “Taking Food to the Next Dimensions”, I was reminded how powerful the VR experience can be for off-premise marketing and user testing because it sensorially puts users in those remote places they’re unable or unwilling to physically reach.


“... if there was an aromatherapy diffuser providing ocean breeze scents and a heat lamp, while experiencing a beach setting in VR, could that be similar to being on the beach?” writes Science Meets World contributor Alexander J. Taylor. “Sure it is not the exact experience, but research shows that our brain may actually think it is. A study from Cornell University in 2018 displayed how when panelists ate three identical blue cheese samples… noted that the blue cheese was more ‘pungent’ in the barn context. These VR experiences might be able to subtly influence a food’s taste or flavor, depending on the context given.”

Off-premise is the new on-premise. If technology can make us feel like we’re still getting that on-premise experience while we’re off-premise, it’s a win for us and for them.



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