How restaurants can embrace change in the age of the hermit consumer

By Brittain Brown

There’s been a noticeable change in consumer habits across Canada in the post-pandemic landscape. Fueled by a rise in ghost kitchens, third-party delivery apps, and surging inflation impacting supply chains, we’ve seen the emergence of a new consumer archetype: the “hermit consumer,” marked by those who prioritize comfort and convenience by ordering in, instead of dining out.

Individuals who practice hermit consumerism are influencing various industries, particularly in the foodservice sector. In the past year alone, 88 per cent  of Canadians are choosing to dine out less and takeout orders have grown by 46 per cent globally. Fast food chains are swiftly adapting to the pit stop mentality, where they are more of a transitory space to pick up or hand off food, and some have introduced dining room-less concepts which limit human interaction, signalling a societal shift towards digital ordering.

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While there hasn’t been a decrease in overall spending, there has been a notable increase in orders for takeout and delivery, indicating a shift in where consumers prefer to enjoy their meals. Customers practicing hermit consumerism tend to opt for takeaway services over traditional dine-in experiences, spurring a change in the way restaurants conduct business.

The hermit consumer trend is reshaping how people engage with services, especially those outside of cities where consumers can access a broader range of services online than they would be able to otherwise. This shift has prompted businesses to quickly adjust by prioritizing flexibility and embracing digital solutions to meet changing consumer demands in a rapidly evolving market.

The consumer shift towards takeout and delivery

Hermit consumerism reflects a broader evolution in consumer behaviour, driven by convenience, safety, and personalization. Restaurants are adapting in a number of ways, including opening dedicated to-go stations and making themselves available on numerous delivery apps to cater to the growing demand for off-premise dining experiences. Some operators are even experimenting with drone delivery capabilities to meet this growing demand, which can be an affordable and efficient alternative to human couriers.

The pandemic highlighted to already resistant consumers that digital ordering can be fast and efficient. Chains have been quick to respond to market demand and dive deeper into the digital realm; chains like Canadian-owned Popeyes have been testing AI-driven virtual assistants at drive-thru locations. In order to offer high-quality menu items and remain profitable with delivery, restaurants can scale a tight delivery radius, have dedicated drivers, design delivery-centric kitchens, and offer items and packaging that travel better without getting soggy. Fast-tracking services and full online integration align with consumer preferences but can also enhance operational efficiency and expand reach.

With the rise of delivery apps and digital platforms, consumers now have unprecedented access to a wide range of dining options from the comfort of their homes. Last year, more than half (51 per cent) of Canadians reported ordering food on a third-party platform between two and four times a month. This convenience factor has reshaped the dining landscape, with many consumers opting for hassle-free meal solutions that fit within their busy lifestyles. With hundreds of restaurant options for consumers to choose from on delivery apps, promotions such as ‘buy, one, get one’ can help operators differentiate themselves and stand out from competitors on apps with so many choices.

Being available to deliver and provide takeout is key to many businesses in the hospitality industry now, and maintaining profitability while catering to off-premise dining demand requires strategic planning and creative solutions. For instance, introducing loyalty incentives that resonate with consumers and will encourage them to order from the restaurant directly instead of a third-party app.

Using technology to meet demands

Investing in technology is crucial for restaurants looking to remain competitive in the hospitality industry, and the hermit consumer trend has only accelerated the adoption of technology.

Apps, takeout platforms, and streamlined services help meet consumer expectations and contribute to the overall success of restaurants in the digital age. From mobile ordering systems to AI-driven personalized recommendations for online ordering, restaurants are leveraging digital tools to enhance the customer experience. Those practicing hermit consumerism expect speed and accuracy of service, and restaurant automation is also moving to include back-of-house tools to expedite food preparation. Robots can help streamline repetitive and mundane tasks like peeling fruit, and according to a Canadian robotics startup, they can enhance consistency, reduce customer wait times, and decrease labour costs by 33 per cent.

Adapting to the hermit consumer trend also involves understanding market dynamics. By leveraging POS systems for customer data, restaurant operators can identify dining trends, forecast inventory demand, and tailor offerings like custom menu items to drive growth and customer satisfaction.

Embracing adaptation for success

The rise of consumers displaying hermit tendencies presents both challenges and opportunities for the restaurant and hospitality industry. While it contests pre-existing consumer models, this behavioural change presents a chance for restaurants to capitalize on evolving tech offerings for success. Restaurants need to embrace flexibility, innovation, and technology to create unique value propositions, drive customer loyalty, and secure their position in a competitive market. Operating based on a customer-centric approach that forecasts what consumers are going to want moving forward will help restaurants resonate with changing demands.

Whether hermit consumerism is a passing trend or here to stay remains to be seen, but as long as the hospitality industry stays adaptable, it will be well-equipped to weather the rise of the hermit economy.

Since joining Givex in 2003, Brittain Brown has held various managerial roles in National Accounts and Operations. As President, Brown has driven Givex’s international expansion and overseen the successful acquisition of new additions to the Givex family of companies. His leadership and passion have been instrumental in the company’s explosive growth.