The pandemic has forced restaurant operators to consider new revenue streams. Robots may help open some doors. Salad bars and buffets may not be operating as they were, for example, but could a robot offer a similar product – and operate in a context removed from a sit-down restaurant? Candace MacDonald, cofounder and managing director of hospitality consultancy Carbonate, told Modern Restaurant Management that companies like Salad Station are using robotic vending to serve up salads in new locations – and at the same time, are likely reaching new customers. Could you envision offering menu items through robotic vending via a grocery store or hospital cafeteria?
As strange as these times have been for restaurants, they’re also strange for restaurant guests – and helping the public understand and follow your updated procedures takes some work. A recent webinar from Winsight and SevenRooms pointed out how tech can help hold the restaurant guest’s hand through the changes and make them feel not just more informed but also more cared for while COVID-19 persists. Tech management of reservations and communications around seating can be especially helpful in preparing a guest for their visit before they enter the restaurant. Instead of gathering at the host’s stand in the front of the restaurant to inquire about wait times, for example, guests can wait outside or in their car and receive an alert. When their table is ready, they can receive another text alert asking them to enter the restaurant. Operators can use tech to set guest expectations too. By specifying the location of available tables and pointing out a reservation end time, restaurants can help guests plan accordingly – and also get some assurance they will have a table available for other guests at a certain point.
Does the technology you use help minimize the number of steps required for a customer to place an order? Off-premise dining is here to stay and major chains are focusing on perfecting the off-premise experience right now. That involves integrating new digital tools to make ordering easier and faster. Panera, for one, has a new integration with Google’s Search, Maps and Assistant apps that allows people to order food for pickup and delivery directly from Google. Other large chains are likely to follow – and while the investment may not be as feasible for smaller brands, it’s still important for the tech you use to bring efficiency to the process of ordering and connecting people with your food – whether that involves minimizing the searching, scrolling and number of clicks required for people to place an order online, or streamlining your pickup and delivery processes.
Imagine not having to touch your credit card or mobile phone to make a payment. That’s the reality for a number of restaurants and retailers in the Pasadena, Calif. area who recently launched PopID’s facial recognition payment technology – and pandemic-related anxiety about contacting various surfaces may create more demand for such technology. After customers register an account with PopID, they can visit a restaurant and the system will scan their face, which will bring up their past orders, loyalty points and stored payment details. While drive-thru and walk-up kiosks will still require a customer to touch a screen for now, tableside orders and payments can be completely touch-free.
It seems like just a short time ago that ordering via a touchscreen at your table – or scrolling through a wine list or viewing other menu-related content on a communal tablet at a fine dining restaurant – was considered futuristic. Now that contactless is king and shared touchscreens are tools consumers may aim to avoid (unless they have hand sanitizer nearby), where are we likely to see tableside innovation? On a recent Foodable podcast, Shaun Shankel, CEO of FreshTechnology and ToGoTechnologies, expressed optimism in QR codes as mobile payment vehicles. Already in use to help guests at some restaurants view menus during the pandemic, QR codes are likely to gain momentum as a tool that enables a touch-free experience at a restaurant. They’re another reason to ensure all content you create for customers – whether it’s your menu, your background story, or behind-the-scenes videos you produce – is easy to view, interact with, and (where applicable) pay for via a customer’s personal device.
Back in June, the National Restaurant Association named virtual gift cards on a list of restaurant tech tools that it predicted would best support the industry’s recovery from the pandemic. Virtual gift cards – as opposed to the plastic ones that clutter a person’s wallet – make contactless, fast payment possible, so they’re well suited to these times. Further, since more than 70 percent of gift card recipients spend more than the face value of their cards, according to research from Givex, they can help lift check totals. Are you offering and promoting virtual gift cards on your website, app and social media platforms?
As restaurants have taken steps to keep business running, operators have embraced radical reinvention: transitioning from fine-dining establishments to takeout providers, from selling deli sandwiches to groceries. How can you fortify your restaurant for the future? Now is the time for considering ideas that may have seemed crazy just last year. The restaurant industry advisory Aaron Allen & Associates found that 82 percent of restaurant positions today could potentially be automated. Though they stressed they aren’t suggesting the human element of restaurants be removed, their findings do provide reason for operators to assess how technology brings efficiencies to not only restaurant categories but to other industries – and anticipate what they may have to do in the future to compete.
Is there an area where your restaurant can give a little bit in order to demonstrate customer benefits in the long run? According to this Bloomberg report for the Washington Post, Chipotle had offered free delivery for much of the second quarter to entice customers. Now it is beginning to charge for that service, but the company has found that customers who used Chipotle’s app for free delivery are now going on to use the app to place orders for pickup – especially when they are reminded that they can do this for free and for a typically shorter wait time. Chipotle is gaining new converts to pickup – as well as more customer data – all for charging more for delivery and communicating well through its app.
Still using paper menus? In an environment where AI-powered digital menus can upsell, cross-sell and suggest dishes based on a customer’s past orders or even the weather, the paper menu is likely to become an increasing liability. According to McKinsey research, personalization can deliver five to eight times the return on investment on marketing and can increase sales by 10 percent or more. What’s more, having a data-driven understanding of what customers are ordering will help you better predict what they are likely to order in the future – and help you minimize waste and the expense it generates.
The current pandemic has been a test of how effectively restaurant operators can pivot to offering new services – and as many parts of the U.S. face potential waves of opening and closing, restaurants will have to be able to scale up and scale back services quickly. Technology can help – and Modern Restaurant Management predicts a rise in microservices-based architecture, which allows different services (like curb-side pickup, for one) to be quickly developed, deployed and maintained. This nimble approach to technology allows operators to launch new services quickly, all while responding to data around guest preferences.