2019 Restaurants Canada Show: Top 5 Takeaways in Marketing and Industry Insights

The theme of Restaurants Canada Show 2019 revolved around how consumers in the food world are shifting towards green and technology to shape their unique dining experience. Tony Chapman, keynote speaker and host for the show, kicked off the conference by explaining how the experience economy is growing four times faster than the “stuff” economy. The adoption of technology in delivery and other parts of the buying journey is depriving society’s need for authentic experiences to convince them to dine out rather than dine in. The fondly coined “flexitarians” are increasingly more open to a plant-based diet for moral and health reasons and are now spending $5 Billion in annual spend on this diet.

Social media and different technology products within the restaurant ecosystem are key drivers of enhancing patron experiences. It serves as an educator for people on the sustainability merits and the story behind what’s served on their plates. Here are the main takeaways under the theme of leveraging technology, digital media, and the green tide of both plant-based and fast approaching, cannabis-infused menus.

#1: Measuring foot traffic with the power of Google

Google had strong presence at the show by adding more colour to their summer announcements around automating hyperlocal advertising campaigns. The search engine has seen a 10 times increase in the number of searches including the phrase “open near me tonight”, thus launching a new campaign type called Local Campaigns which is aimed at driving store visits. How it works is that advertisers set a budget and the ads are generated automatically based on creative elements from the advertiser and location extensions. Google automatically optimizes ad delivery across Search, YouTube, Maps and websites and apps in its ad networks. The only caveat is that you need to have at least 10 locations to get early access to this.

#2: The technology that drives food delivery and other trends need to be embraced but further supplemented by even more personalized service

Johannes Moonesinghe, Founder of In-Kind, a modern financing and loyalty technology company for restaurants, spoke to impact of UberEats. Throughout the next 10 years, the only way consumers are going to have incentive to leave the comfort of their homes will be with restaurants that provide something beyond what’s on their plate.

CEO of Starbucks Canada, Michael Conway, admits that even though they pride themselves in personalized customer interactions with their “partners” (i.e baristas), they had to meet customers on their phones. Instead of fighting technology, they met customers where they want with mobile ordering. In the end, they increased customer satisfaction and return visits dramatically.

Co-Founder of Strangelove Coffee, Chris Nguyen, emphasized that as technology drives more people to their cafe locations, people have higher expectations for how personalized that experience has to be for them.

#3: CEO’s of Starbucks, KFC, A&W, Cara Foods, and McDonalds admit that better storytelling will improve youth employment and careers in the industry

Host Tony Chapman asked the top fast food CEO’s a tough question about how the industry should raise credibility in the coming years as a favourable career choice for youth and adults alike. Frank Hennessey, newly appointed CEO of Cara Foods (parent company of Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Harvey’s and Kelsey’s) admitted that most have stumbled into executive positions within the restaurant industry without deliberate planning — it’s not something kids are raised to dream of. President and GM of KFC Canada, Nivera Wallani, enlightened the crowd with how far the industry has come with diversity inclusion, farmer relationships, and earnings potential to manage billion dollar business units. In the end, all CEO’s at the table agreed that better storytelling of the industry’s evolution is vital to attracting today’s top talent.

#4: Plant-Based Businesses are growing revenues by 100%-200%

In a 2017 study, 29 businesses volunteered to completely flip their menus into plant-based ones to assess what growth potential they would experience. Every single one saw a dramatic increase in sales with most seeing a jump within 100%-200% after one year. One of the people leading this study was Kiki Adami from The Veganizer, who shed light to the fact that results of the study were driven by flexitarians, people with food allergies, and the athlete population that enjoys healthy food after a workout.

#5: Cannabis and Restaurants are bridging closer together

While edibles are still not legal for public consumption, there has been a surge in underground cannabis-infused dinners. As Lift & Co’s VP of Strategy Nick Pateras clarified, chefs are freely allowed to legally infuse meals at home to their heart’s desire. A thought leader in the space is Travis Peterson (aka the Nomad Chef), who was also on the cannabis panel. He spoke to how his underground cannabis dining series is getting more popular. He sees it as inevitable that restaurants and chefs will soon be applying for cannabis licenses much the same way as they apply for a liquor license.