If you have a business profile on Google and your staff regularly spends time responding to guest questions submitted via the search engine, a new automated tool may help save you some time. Search Engine Journal reports that business profiles on Google can now set automated responses to specific questions – kind of like a customer service chatbot on a website. Further, you can add links to these responses to provide online visitors with the information they need. Just go to “my business” in your Google browser, then click customers, messages, menu, message settings and finally manage frequently asked questions to add questions and responses to your profile.
The metaverse is still in its early stages and consumers –and operators – may not fully understand it. But could the virtual world people access in the metaverse have real-world potential for restaurants? New research from PYMNTS and Paytronix found that it could, particularly among grab-and-go customers. Of the consumers surveyed who already participate in the metaverse or are interested in it, 38 percent said they would be willing to integrate restaurant purchases into this environment, including 51 percent of grab-and-go customers. Greater clarity about the connection between food and the metaverse may increase those numbers: A combined 21 percent of consumers surveyed who said they are not interested in buying food in the metaverse said it’s because they are either unfamiliar with it or think it is complicated. If you’re curious to see how the restaurant-metaverse connection evolves, or to understand it better, consider Chipotle, which is launching a Burrito Builder on the gaming platform Roblox. Players of Roblox can build burritos virtually to earn Burrito Bucks, then exchange that virtual currency for real food at a Chipotle restaurant. Marketing Dive reports that IHOP is tapping into the metaverse with a virtual loyalty program that allows users to earn digital PanCoins that can be exchanged for real-world pancakes. The startup Tablz has also developed a reservations technology that allows guests to virtually tour a restaurant and select their preferred table when making a reservation – something that could help enhance a dinner out on a special occasion.
If you’re generating more business from your website nowadays, integrating a chatbot may help you better capitalize on the traffic coming to you. Chatbots have become an easy plug-and-play feature for more restaurants and can serve as a kind of virtual employee by suggesting food and drink pairings, upselling menu items, promoting offers and upcoming events, processing payments and soliciting feedback. They can also help infuse your site with your brand’s personality – if you’ve ever ordered a Domino’s pizza and encountered the brand’s wise-cracking chatbot, Dom, you know how it works.
Like it or not, the ease of ordering from your restaurant online may influence your guests’ decision to order from you as much as the quality of your food. When is the last time you walked through the guest journey on your website or app? Ensure you’re seizing opportunities to not only make the process faster, easier and less frustrating, but also to upsell and capture guest data. Acceptance of a range of payment options, including gift cards, is a given. Can your guests also arrange to add a tip for deliveries – or just because? Are you asking them if they want to opt in to text or email offers? Is your interface intuitive, with minimal scrolling and clicking – and does it look as good on a smartphone as on a laptop? Are you tempting guests to add an appetizer to their order or choose a larger-size drink for a small increase in price? Are you automating your menu prices across platforms? At a time when your menu prices are likely in flux and guests are watching, make sure the prices on your website and other online channels match the ones guests see in your dining room.
Digital restaurant orders continue to be high, making your restaurant’s online presence especially important. That extends to what people are saying about you online, but when restaurants are strapped for staff, responding to every review with a professional, sensitive, well-thought-out answer can feel like one task too many. If that’s the case for you, artificial intelligence may be able to provide some relief. In a recent report from Pymnts.com, Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins said smart use of AI can help expedite and automate the process of responding to reviews. Much like an extension of how AI is used in drive-thrus and customer service call centers, AI may be able to process the words used in a review and craft an appropriate response – with minimal time and involvement from you.
It’s easy to get canceled these days. For a restaurant, a critical online review going viral, a negative story about a key supplier appearing in the news, or a food safety crisis can do it. Even the public’s perception of a restaurant’s connection to the war happening on the other side of the world (whether that connection actually exists or not) can have consequences that temporarily derail a restaurant business. While you can’t control how people react to your business, you can take steps to manage a crisis in a way that turns down the heat instead of making the problem worse. Make it a priority to monitor and manage your online profile. When you receive a positive written review, thank the reviewer for the post. When the inevitable negative review happens, respond promptly and stay professional about finding a solution. If you feel you can do something to make the situation right, encourage the person to call you directly or invite them back – showing everyone how you handle an upset guest constructively may even win you some fans. If a larger crisis comes about, use your Google Business Profile and prominent space on your website to pose and answer commonly asked questions in an open, transparent way. While no restaurant is looking for crises, they can generate some opportunities to elevate your reputation with the public if managed thoughtfully and promptly.
Texting, as a means of connecting with guests, has a number of critical benefits: It’s an intuitive technology that everyone – regardless of demographics – knows how to use. It doesn’t require a download, so there is little commitment involved. Finally, it’s that rare technology that has the power to immediately get the attention of the recipient: It’s common to ignore an email, call or social media alert – but not a text. In fact, the click-through rate for text offers is more than 9 percent higher than any other digital channel, according to TechJury. So are you using text messaging to its fullest potential? Once your guests opt into it, ensure you’re using text to send important, just-in-time offers – don’t bombard them with untargeted promotions that will quickly become noise. Offer discount codes good for a future order, an invitation to a special event, contest or tasting, a birthday treat, or a prompt to reengage a customer who hasn’t ordered in recent weeks.
Customizing guest promotions – and ensuring your outreach is frequent enough to help you track (and even help form) their habits – provides important leverage when so many other facets of running a restaurant can feel difficult to control. If you can automate your outreach, that’s all the better for ensuring consistency and minimizing the amount of labor needed to manage it. Customer engagement platforms now bring together email, retention marketing, and SMS and push notification capabilities under one umbrella. Next-generation loyalty marketing is taking automation a step further: Nation’s Restaurant News reported that tech innovations are making it possible for operators to conduct A/B tests of messaging, offers and distribution channels – then automate the winning variant. It removes the guesswork (and a lot of the manual work) from the process, making it possible for restaurants to quickly pivot to marketing approaches and offers that have the best chance of success.
It seems that with each passing week, more restaurant brands – both new and established – are preparing for a future in which our actions in the metaverse, the fast-developing virtual reality world, can help us enjoy restaurant meals in reality. Panera and McDonald’s are among the larger restaurant brands that have invested in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that serve as virtual currency. In the not-too-distant future, it could be possible for a person to, say, play a video game in the metaverse in which they walk into a virtual restaurant, place a Panera order, and then have it arrive on their (real-life doorstep) within a period of minutes. To be sure, this is not a future that every restaurant will see in its business plan. But this merging of virtual and real worlds is something for every restaurant operator to think about because it creates a new dimension in the experience of eating in a restaurant. It will change the competitive landscape and provide new ways for restaurants to establish and promote their brands. Even if you’re not planning to dip your toe into the metaverse, think about your restaurant’s online presence. How can you make it a more authentic, brand-elevating expression of the experience you offer in your dining room?
As Covid-19 variants continue to add uncertainty to the in-restaurant dining experience, your online presence – and specifically your efforts to present your restaurant on social media – will be important to keeping your brand front-of-mind for existing and new customers. According to a new study from GlobalWebIndex, nearly half of all internet users discover new brands via social media, whether through ads, recommendations and comments from contacts, or through updates on brands’ social media pages. Your consistency in posting engaging and valuable content will help boost your restaurant’s visibility, so it’s a good time to fine-tune your social media content schedule for the year ahead. Aim to post a range of types of content so you’re providing a full picture of your brand and values – not simply a string of photos or ads. Here are some ideas to consider as you plan content: Go behind the scenes and feature a video of your chef preparing a signature dish or talking about the history of the restaurant. Release a poll to find out which dishes your guests enjoy the most (or would like to see on future menus). Advertise a limited-time offer. Ask for guests’ help in sending you job applicants (and reward them for any hires you make as a result). Profile a favorite supplier or complementary business – they may return the favor and introduce you to new potential customers. Share a positive online review. Promote a discount to entice people to order directly from your app or website. Post a fun fact about your city or neighborhood. Share what you’re doing to protect people’s safety, minimize waste and run a more sustainable business.