Restaurants all over the world express their own environments and tastes that help people identify the culture. People travel all to all ends of the earth to savor a certain style of food or experience a certain society or tradition. Restaurants are places that we go to enjoy everything from a quick lunch to a celebration of any sort. We engage restaurants as a platform for many activities, especially in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted issues on all social gatherings, and the world had to change the way we do many normal, day-to-day activities, impacting the restaurant industry significantly. My focus today is to enlighten you on some aspects that may help your business adapt, and make your restaurant a more attractive target to be acquired.
The restaurant industry is a monstrosity. It has various moving parts and year-over-year new aspects and competition. From ingredients to efficiency to ambiance, the restaurant sector has always been competitive and continually pushing forward with the times. 2020 brought all of that to a screeching halt. Though demand for certain items such as beans, rice, and bread was higher than ever, and grocery stores were being raided, restaurants were forced into full panic mode. There was no way to prepare, and no one knew what to do. Unlike several other diseases in the past, COVID-19 thankfully does not spread directly through livestock and agricultural products. Though that is not where the issue lies. Getting the products delivered to the location and having employees inside without spreading the disease was nearly impossible. The restaurants still surviving have obviously adapted to the times by focusing on enhanced delivery options and marketing schemes that helped them to stay afloat. With the world beginning to open back up, what is going to be the best tactic to getting the financials back to pre-COVID numbers?
More than 110,000 establishments have closed permanently over the past year, with others filing for bankruptcy. Everyone has changed their dining habits over the past year, particularly shifting to takeout and delivery. Moving forward, the industry is going to need to maintain a focus on responsiveness, and prioritization of health and safety. No one wants a cold pizza or cold veal parmesan in a plastic container. Presentation has come further into play. Restaurants need to get a foot ahead of the competition in any way possible. More restaurant concepts will have a drive-thru or pickup window in construction designs. Marketing schemes have been redirected to be community-based on a larger sense. For example, homeowner associations, next-door-neighbor sites, and city blog pages are going to need to be targeted. Along with that, customer loyalty programs, organic menu options, social media options, and mobile paying all may be beneficial. With the vaccines being distributed more widely, people are tired of being cooped up for over a year and are starting to travel and go to the newest, trendiest, most happening areas. How do you make your business compete and intrigue the crowd? There has to be a niche to your business—one that makes it stands apart from the chains and competition. There are restaurants on every corner, so you must create a particular dish or unique ambiance that people will remember. It is a difficult median that must be found where you are focusing on your health, yet also creating a memorable experience. Technology has also made its presence known, as nearly all communication over the past year has been through phone, text, video chat, or online ordering.
When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, what can you do to make your restaurant more sellable? There are a lot of factors that come into play, but a large portion has to do with profit & loss statements, balance sheets, and showing consistency. Of course, 2020 will not be taken out of consideration, but at the same time, buyers cannot consider last year to have been normal. Some buyers will try to take this into consideration as they want the better deal, and this may work out in certain situations, but overall growth or consistency makes your company enticing. Outside of financials, strategic buyers seem to focus on how it lines up with the current business they are operating. Room for development is a trait that I’ve learned many potential buyers seek. With wanting to bring your business into a current facility, or operating under the same name, buyers want to be able to see the room for growth. Along with that, the capability to adapt is a key aspect because any time new management is put in place, there may be at least a few altercations. Looking forward, what is going to be the challenge is getting your financials back to where they were pre-COVID. This is easier said than done, but a few good places to start are re-accumulating an employee base, providing a safe environment, following all government regulations, and providing the same pre-COVID quality of service and food.
With mergers and acquisitions, if you were one of the larger firms such as OPES Acquisition Corp. or Inspire Brands, this would be an opportunity to make significant acquisitions. When smaller brands struggle, they can swoop in and save the day by acquiring them. The stage has been set in a sense for the next several years with different outlooks. Well-performing chains with drive thrus and delivery options yield high multiples, while frustrated owners are selling struggling chains. Activity will be fueled by cheap debt thanks to low interest rates, private equity groups, other investors that remain ready to spend, and strategic investors eager to get bigger. There is a lot of money that private equity firms have held onto for 2021, along with SPACs making their presence known. Getting your restaurant’s financials back up to normal and showing that your business has withheld and adapted with the times will make it more attractive.
Along with the direct work in the restaurant industry, the delivery options such as Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats have exploded, and their presence has been known in the mergers and acquisitions industry. DoorDash is the industry leader with 50% market share, Uber acquired Postmates, with GrubHub in a close second. Before COVID, many companies said they intentionally avoided these apps because the cost to the business seemed too high. Once COVID hit, these apps were essential to keeping many businesses open. There was a survey taken with 2,500 consumers in July that stated that 52% of them would avoid restaurants and bars even after they open back up. Showing your capability to work with these companies as efficiently and effectively as possible will be a contributing factor to the success in your business for the next several years.
The restaurant industry will overcome this pandemic and to adjust to what the new normal will look like. With the vaccines being distributed, the light at the end of the tunnel seems visible. Although it will not be an overnight process, the economy will recover and there will be new adaptations to get used to. Restaurants are opening back up and doing all they can, and the competition is eager to do the most they can with the government regulations. It may be far from over with limited capacities and dine-in options still somewhat limited, but local companies are doing everything they can to accrue the income to keep the doors open. Local restaurants need this, and there is a difficult balance that needs to be found. The hope is there, and the future is bright for both buy-side but sell-side M&A in the restaurant industry.
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