April 16, 2021 at 09:39PM

For 13 months now, the restaurant industry has been fighting an uphill battle to bring sales back to pre-COVID levels. Now, as the vaccine rolls out across the United States, and as warmer weather begins to make outdoor dining a possibility again in many markets, sales are starting to creep back. Restaurant sales in March were up 13 percent from February, according to U.S. Census data, reports Restaurant Business.

According to the Census Bureau’s recorded totals for “Food Services and Drinking Places” sales across the country, March saw $64.0 billion in restaurant sales, just a 3 percent decrease from March 2019’s $66.2 billion and a significant increase from the past year’s sales, which remained down between $30 and $57 billion per month from March 2020 to February 2021.

Sure enough, restaurant owners were noting consumers’ increased willingness to return for indoor dining throughout March.

“You know, it’s amazing — people get their vaccination, the first thing they do is they go to a restaurant, even though they probably should wait a few days,” Gene Lee, CEO of table-service giant Darden, said on a call with analysts. “There are a lot of people, we’re noticing, especially near vaccination sites, that this is their first time out in a year, and they’re just so excited to be back … People are happy to be out, and it’s definitely noticeable. There’s a good vibe in our restaurants right now.”

Uber Eats Adds Restaurant Stories Through Instagram Partnership

During the pandemic, many small businesses have turned to social media to build a connection with their audience, largely deprived of the opportunity to create that relationship in-store. Now, Uber Eats is building social storytelling capabilities into its interface, reports Restaurant Dive.

The company announced on Tuesday (April 13) a new Uber Eats Merchant Stories feature, which allows restaurants to share photos, videos, and stories in-app. Partnering with Instagram, the restaurant aggregator allows merchants to link their businesses’ Instagram accounts to their Uber Eats account, broadcasting their social feed through the aggregator’s app.

“We know from research that consumers regularly look to Instagram to validate their order decisions, and we are excited to see how this integration boosts sales for merchants,” Uber Eats said in the release. “Owner-operators can upload images and add text to tell their customers about special deals, menu changes, new services, or seasonal promotions. In early testing, 13% of consumers who clicked through a restaurant’s Stories placed an order to that restaurant in the same session.”

Panera Bread No Longer Offering In-House Delivery

As restaurants seek to make delivery more profitable, many are positing alternatives to the third-party aggregator model, looking to avoid the steep and often prohibitive fees that these services charge their restaurant partners. Now, there is bad news for restaurants hoping that in-house delivery will be the clear solution to this problem. Panera Bread, one of the first major restaurant chains to roll out its own delivery service, is shutting down the channel, switching to rely fully on third-party services.

“Panera continually evaluates our model to put guest preferences at the center of everything we do,” Chris Correnti, the company’s senior vice president of off-premises channels, told Nation’s Restaurant News in an interview. “This change enables Panera to offer a broader delivery range to serve increased demand for delivery, in response to an off-premises market that has grown and shifted dramatically over the past year.”

John Gordon, founder of restaurant analysis and advisory firm Pacific Management Consulting Group, offered his own assessment in an interview with the publication: “For Panera to abandon their vehicles and the capabilities they built in years ago, I can only think they did not want to do this and they are so short on employees that they had to. I think they would put [in-house delivery] back in a heartbeat, which may be why there’s no publicity on this: they may want to resume it immediately once labor conditions resume. It’s costing them money to do this.”

Nathan’s Famous Launches Trial Value Menu

The value menu trend is a staple of the fast food category, and restaurants have been competing for years and years to provide the most budget-friendly options, looking to offer the best taste and the most variety for the lowest cost while keeping these menus profitable. Now, Nathan’s Famous is getting in on the game. The chain is testing out a value menu, which features menu items between $4 and $7, at select stores in New York and Florida, reports QSR Web.

“For more than 100 years, Nathan’s Famous has been one of America’s top destinations for great food fast, and our goal with this new value menu launch is to make it accessible too,” James Walker the company’s senior vice president of restaurants, said in a statement. “We’ve spent the past two years evolving the menu to focus on premium offerings that are memorable, craveable and Instagrammable. These new value menu items offer that same level of appeal, but at a lower price point, providing real value to our customers.”

The menu will rollout nationwide later in the year and will be available both online and through third-party delivery services. Menu items will include the chain’s signature hot dog, multiple chicken sandwich options, and a steak and cheese sandwich, among others.


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