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Is your restaurant ready for the busiest travel days of the year?

When drivers encounter packed roadways, they might see delays and frustration, but restaurants see dollars. In fact, a Waze survey found that 96% of road trippers say they will stop for meals or snacks en route to their destination[1].

When travelers are in search of something to eat, they want the most convenient option to satisfy their cravings and get them safely back on the road — and restaurants don't want to serve up disappointment by inconveniencing them with a long wait time. Here's how to prepare for the busy upcoming travel season.

When are the busiest travel days of the year?

With increasingly flexible work schedules, the busiest travel days of the year might be more spread out in 2021 than in years past. But there are still some days that will command the highest proportion of road trippers. According to past data, these will include[2]:

The Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving, which this year will fall on Nov. 24 and Nov. 28.

Days surrounding Christmas; while the Saturday and/or Sunday before Christmas are historically the main travel days, Christmas 2021 falls on a Saturday, making Thursday, Dec. 23, the expected biggest getaway day.

New Year's weekend, which means travelers will likely be leaving town on Dec. 30, 2021, and heading back Jan. 2, 2022.

In addition, restaurants should be aware of events that are specific to their local area, such as a big rivalry football game or holiday gatherings — like Oktoberfest celebrations or holiday light shows — which can attract more out-of-town visitors than usual.

How can restaurants prepare to reach on-the-go customers?

Long lines at the drive-thru or delayed curbside pickup orders are a recipe for disaster, which is why restaurants should be prepared to handle the influx. Here are six suggestions to get locations road-trip ready.

1. Staff up with all hands on deck

Restaurants have been coping with labor shortages for months now, with three-quarters of restaurant operators citing employee recruitment and retention as their top challenge[3].

Creativity is a must to attract holiday workers. Look for nontraditional sources, such as college students who might be back in town and hoping to make some extra money.

Try offering bonuses for referrals and making wages as competitive as possible. Remember that a positive work environment starts at the top and expressing appreciation to employees and fostering a congenial atmosphere can help with retention.

2. Tweak tech

Consumers increasingly have a digital-first mentality, so make sure they can easily interact with the restaurant online. Many road-tripping customers may prefer to order ahead so their food will be ready when they arrive with little to no wait. Update an app's functionality if needed and invest in tablets or kiosks to make ordering a breeze. As a bonus, using restaurant technology can help reduce staff turnover by 13%.[4]

Waze Location Personality badges allow restaurants to alert customers to the availability of drive-thru or curbside pick-up services, which can incent motorists to visit a certain restaurant over a competitor. Pei Wei is one fast casual restaurant that saw the fast boost Waze Location Personalities gave its business firsthand: After enabling its curbside badge, Pei Wei saw its ad engagement increase by 18%. The campaign also drove navigations to its locations, with 55% of those navigations resulting in in-store visits.[5] 

3. Cross-train workers

Familiarizing employees with the restaurant's various processes means they can be redeployed to where they are needed, depending on minute-by-minute traffic flow. Ensure everyone knows how to relay orders from the app and correctly package up food to keep it fresh and hot for carry-out or curbside pickup. Automating certain tasks so staff can work in more customer-facing roles can make your restaurant run smoother but also enhance the employee experience. In fact, 96% of food industry workers say they'd like to receive more training.[6]

4. Offer alternate ordering forms

Travelers on tight schedules might want to look ahead to options 30 miles down the road and order ahead to grab and go. Use Waze to highlight location offerings, such as curbside pick-up, drive thru and order-ahead options for these customers who don't want to waste a minute. "As Pei Wei introduced curbside pickup options in response to the pandemic, we got such a positive response that we are continuing the service," says Kyle Wright, digital marketing manager with Pei Wei Asian Kitchen. "We are confident that this alternate channel—in addition to dine-in, pickup and delivery—will resonate as busy travelers head out for the holidays."

5. Extend restaurant hours

Road trippers who hit the road early or drive into the wee hours often need a snack break, so help them seamlessly identify a quick stop. Now is the time to leverage ad capabilities such as digital out-of-home on Waze to attract late-night or early-morning diners. Proactive communication is especially important during nontraditional dining hours, as tourists may be hesitant to venture off the highway into an unfamiliar area without knowing they will be rewarded with an open location.

6. Make it easy for travelers to find the location

Road trips (and holidays) can be stressful, and restaurants can remove one less challenge by "streamlining the stop." Waze Location Personality badges alert drivers to a restaurant's presence and gives clear information regarding amenities such as curbside pickup. Waze's turn-by-turn directions allow a motorist to pop off the highway, get their needs met and then continue on their trip without wasting time trying to return to their route.

Restaurants should prepare now for busy holiday travel.

Fall and winter are brimming with opportunities for consumers to visit friends and family, and given the changing conditions surrounding COVID-19, many travelers are liable to embrace the flexibility of a road trip, rather than booking flights. Waze solutions like Arrows and Pins, Search, Takeover and Location Personality badges allow restaurant operators to reach on-the-go drivers and ease their journey during these extra busy travel periods.

This article was created in partnership with and originally published on Restaurant Dive

[1] Google Consumer Survey, March 2021.
[2] "Top 10 Worst Travel Days." USA Today. URL. Accessed September 13, 2021.
[3] "2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Mid-Year Update." National Restaurant Association, URL. Accessed September 13, 2021.
[4] "The State of Restaurant Hiring in 2021." 7Shifts. URL Accessed September 13, 2021.
[5] "Pei Wei Connects Customers With Curbside Pickup." Waze. URL. Accessed September 27, 2021.
[6] "State of Training F&B Industry." Talent LMS. URL. Accessed September 27, 2021.

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