For two years, the pandemic has been at the forefront of conversations surrounding challenges faced by restaurant owners and hospitality entrepreneurs. While necessary to discuss, these ongoing challenges and discussions have overshadowed another growing issue amongst the same population – the digital influence.
“Implementing digital options is non-negotiable.”
The digital influence refers to the rapid growth in demand for innovative digital products and services across the country. This influence has opened the door to a world of opportunity, but as many of us have experienced, it comes with a variety of expenses and challenges of its own. As a hospitality professional and business owner surviving the pandemic, I have learned that implementing digital options is non-negotiable.
Digital discussions began before the pandemic but accelerated dramatically in 2020. Overnight, the entire restaurant industry had to pivot around government restrictions, dine-in limitations, and profits without liquor sales. The ripple effect of this drastic impact remains visible as a new wave of virtual restaurants, ghost kitchens, delivery services, and third-party delivery apps continues to roll in.
“Virtual services and platform implementation have allowed restaurants to keep the lights on in the worst of circumstances.”
Both challenges and opportunities have evolved as a result of this increased digital dependence. For the majority, virtual services and platform implementation have allowed restaurants to keep the lights on in the worst of circumstances. That being said, the costs associated with these implementations, third-party apps, and ongoing lease agreements often outweigh the profits. The ability to overcome these challenges often lies with the business’ available cash flow, the reliability of its team, and its ability to integrate new software. These costs and challenges present difficult choices, especially as the market becomes more saturated by larger corporations. Most recently, Wendy’s announced plans to open up 700 ghost kitchens, with other mass chains making similar plans. Competing with these larger corporations is daunting, but presents an opportunity to provide something unique to the market.
Acknowledging the barriers to entry and foreseeable challenges of digital integration, I remain adamant that the digital era presents significantly more opportunities than threats. The digital influence has brought forth the ability for business owners, across all industries, to reach an entirely new audience. There is also the added benefit of providing differentiated products and services in a more flexible format. The virtual space is adaptable and allows businesses, specifically restaurants, to truly diversify their offerings. As we’ve seen with the growth of virtual restaurants and ghost kitchens, brands can create special menus, form strategic partnerships, and make use of existing overhead – including salaries, equipment, and kitchens.
The digital influence happening in the restaurant industry is just a small glimpse of a much larger trend, shaping the landscape of Canadian business. For Canadian entrepreneurs and innovators, I believe we need to be taking early actions to ensure that digital tools and concepts are accessible. As we’ve seen with the recently announced Digital Adoption Program, the Canadian government is investing in these opportunities to ensure that businesses have access to a more digitized future. The funding of this program goes to helping Canadian businesses provide an e-commerce presence with a boost and digitalize business operations.
“Business owners must take advantage of opportunities – such as government funding and training opportunities – early on to ensure they are not being left in the dust.”
The digital era has arrived and it’s not slowing down. Business owners must take advantage of opportunities – such as government funding and training opportunities – early on to ensure they are not being left in the dust. Improving the ways SMEs reach audiences is in the interest of everyone, especially as we continue to grow our economy and ownership of the industry. Whether it’s launching your first ghost kitchen or opening that e-commerce shop, the time to act is now!