As the coronavirus outbreak leads consumers to new routines and behaviors, restaurants are rethinking the attributes that constitute a good location. Further, it's fair to question just how well we currently understand many of the traditional factors used to define a "good" restaurant location. Daytime population and traffic counts, in particular, have been significantly warped by stay-at-home orders as well as work-from-home policies, which will likely stick around to some degree even after offices fully reopen. Additionally, restaurants located in formerly (i.e., three months ago) appealing settings, from office buildings to airports to college campuses, have struggled as workers, travelers and students disappeared. The speed with which these locations regain their appeal is largely unknown.
To put this in other words, the customer journey has, is, and will continue to change as we navigate this pandemic. As such, traditional patterns of behavior could soon be very different from the past, and restaurants will need to understand these shifts to identify good real estate.
In our episode with Jim Mizes (Location, Location, Location), we discussed how data has become a much more important part of the site selection process. And one source in particular has been considered a gold mine: mobile phone location data. This information will likely become all the more important as restaurants try to understand where guests are going, and how their traffic patterns vary before, during and after the coronavirus outbreak.
The reality is that if behaviors do substantially change, some good locations may become bad ones, and some average locations might become good ones. This is certainly not a new challenge for operators - just look at our first episode featuring The Columbia - but the quality of a location typically changes over the course of years or decades, not weeks. But more than ever, operators have plenty of data to help understand and navigate these challenges.