Product Managers Prepare For The Future Of Fast Food

Lessons are being learned that will outlast the Covid-19 pandemic
Lessons are being learned that will outlast the Covid-19 pandemic
Image Credit: Mike Mozart

Restaurant product managers are facing one of the toughest times that they have ever had to deal with. The arrival of the Covid-19 virus has changed everything for them. Most restaurants have had to shut down for a while and customers have been told to stay at home and not go out. Many restaurants are reporting that their sales have fallen by up to 48% from a year ago. However, not everyone is suffering. In fact, business is booming for some restaurants. What can product managers learn from the changes that are sweeping through the restaurant industry?

The Winners And The Losers

Let’s face it, Covid-19 has caused every restaurant to change the way that it does business. What is starting to be discovered is that the traditional sit-down restaurants have been hit the hardest. The big fast-food chains have continued to make money. However, the fast food chains have not been able to continue operating without making some significant changes. They have had to change their product development definition by reducing menu options, closing their dining rooms, and offering their customers better deals. The result of them making these changes is that as the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, their customers have been returning in droves.

Two of the biggest fast food chains, McDonalds and Burger King, have seen their sales come roaring back. McDonalds had seen its sales fall by 19%; however, they then came back and were just down by 5%. Burger King had reported that their sales were down by 32% but had returned and were now up by 2.5%. Although we are in tough times, this would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The result of all of these changes is that the future is showing up faster than anyone could have possibly imagined.

The forecast is that online delivery sales will make up 13% of all U.S. restaurant sales by the end of the year instead of the two years that it had been originally forecasted to take to get to this point. At the same time, online advance pickup ordering has also been increasing in popularity. A key reason that parts of the restaurant industry are rebounding is because their customers currently have more money in their pockets. Customers in the U.S. have received stimulus checks from the government while at the same time enhancements to the federal unemployment benefits will continue for a while. Customer purchases have grown in size because of larger orders from families.

The Next Steps

One of the reasons that the fast food restaurant product managers have been so successful is because some of their competition, the independent restaurants, are still shuttered. This leaves customers with fewer dining options and thereby benefits the fast food locations that can stay open. At the same time fast food restaurants are able to reduce their operating costs by reducing their labor because they no longer have to support their usual dine-in service.

Where things can get interesting is when product managers take a careful look at their restaurant market and start to realize that the recovery of the fast food segment has not been even. Currently urban locations are still suffering. However, suburban locations that have drive-through options are currently seeing a large increase in demand for their services. Customers are picking dining options that allow them to stay in their cars. Fast food chains are using the current situation to make improvements. McDonalds has reported that they have been able to shave 25 seconds off of the average time that is required to complete a drive-through order.

One area of the fast food business that has taken a real hit has been breakfast. Breakfast sales have fallen sharply simply because so many people are no longer going to work in the morning. Solving this problem is going to be difficult for product managers. An ad campaign won’t do the trick – it can be very hard to convince people to venture outside of their homes just to get breakfast. Starbucks is dealing with this problem also. Their plan is to build more locations in urban areas that are designed for takeout and advance ordering.

What All Of This Means For You

The arrival of the Covid-19 virus has turned the restaurant industry upside down. Traditional dine-in restaurants are suffering because they have had to close down and their customers are staying at home. However, the fast food restaurants have found ways to keep business booming.

Fast food restaurant product managers have had to take a look at their product manager job description and make a number of changes in order to keep their operations running. They have shrunk their menus, closed their dining rooms, and created better deals for their customers. Two of the biggest fast food chains, McDonalds and Burger King have seen their sales fall as the virus hit and then rebound as life tried to get back to normal. Changes that had been forecasted to take years to arrive are now showing up. The lack of competition has allowed the fast food product managers to be successful. Suburban locations are doing better than urban locations because they support drive-thru service. Breakfast service has taken a hit because people are no longer going to the office in the morning. Starbucks is trying to deal with the new reality by creating takeout and advance ordering locations.

The world certainly has changed. Restaurant product managers are still reeling with the changes and are trying to determine how best to cater to their customer’s changing needs in the era of the Covid-19 virus. Fast food restaurants appear to be doing the best and their customers are flocking to their stores. The challenge going forward will be to determine how best to keep these customers coming to these restaurants. Clearly everything has changed and now product managers need to determine if these changes are temporary or if they are here for good.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What can fast food restaurant product managers do to restart breakfast sales?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it, today when you see a car on the road you expect to see a person sitting behind the wheel. However, if some very smart product managers have their way, in the future you might be seeing driverless cars whizzing around. This is all brand new stuff, but there have been a number of very large investments being made in companies that make robotic delivery vehicles that are driverless. Will their product managers be able to solve all of the challenges that will be coming with this new technology?