Your top 20 percent of guests are gold – and hopefully your loyalty program is already making it well worth their while to continue giving you their business. Still, there is a lot of potential in the remaining 80 percent of the guest pool, particularly at a time when even those not in your loyalty program are giving you a partial data trail to work with. Are you seizing opportunities to boost your traffic this season with visits from those guests? A recent Nation’s Restaurant News report shared that at FSTEC, the technology conference held in Dallas last fall, restaurant leaders addressed how they are trying to boost traffic by targeting the 80 percent. Responses ranged from using anonymized credit card data to track these guests and then expose them to ads on social media, to using targeted ad features paired with geofencing technology to attract guests who have the restaurant’s app. In your own restaurant, how can you use what data you have on your bottom 80 percent of guests, then identify areas that might help you nudge these people to visit? Maybe some of these guests have kids and will be looking for a snack to pick up after soccer practice – or an easy meal for a group afterwards. They could be prime targets for discounts designed to drive visits at certain times of day when you could use the traffic (and possibly be more apt to join your top 20 percent of guests as a result).
How smart is your kitchen? While the Internet of Things (IoT) is making it possible for more restaurant kitchens to track food supplies and minimize waste, IoT-connected sensors are also enabling what can be a key selling point for today’s restaurant guests: hyper-personalization. Specifically, the connection of the IoT and your customer relationship management system can help you deliver more personalized service to the growing number of consumers who have food allergies or other specific dietary needs. By collecting and analyzing guest data, you can be reminded of a guest’s needs and preferences at the time of their order, which, in turn, can help you ensure their order is safe for them to eat, help your staff prepare it quickly without having to take time to confirm food sensitivities with the guest, and thereby drive guest satisfaction and loyalty.
Across the foodservice industry, AI is impacting operators’ ability to pinpoint inefficiencies and make real-time adjustments. This year, look for the technology to help restaurants streamline menus during busy shifts – making it possible to focus on items that require less complicated preparation when a kitchen is at capacity or understaffed, according to TechHQ. In a similar vein, AI is allowing more restaurants to use dynamic pricing during peak periods so they can maximize the benefits of churning out orders at those times – or possibly encourage people to stagger those orders at off-peak hours. On the menu itself, AI can identify a restaurant’s most profitable items (or unprofitable items) and highlight the winners for guests in order to help drive more sales in that direction. AI has applications after the meal too: A recent Paytronix report says restaurants on its ordering platform will be able to use a ChatGPT-powered chatbot to automatically engage with guests after they finish their meal, then route their feedback to the store manager.
Employee theft is a common problem in small- medium-size businesses. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 75 percent of employees have stolenhttps://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-future-of-food-safety-matt-and-francines/id1673580302?i=1000639720769 from their employer at least once. It can be of particular concern in restaurants: One report estimates that quick-service restaurants, in particular, lose up to 7 percent of their sales to employee theft. There are plenty of ways for restaurant employees to steal from their employers – even if you are processing far fewer cash transactions than you used to. While the tech-based tools and systems you have adopted in recent years may not have been introduced for the purpose of identifying employee theft, they often provide that benefit by helping you get to the root of the problem more quickly and preventing theft from continuing. For example, a recent report from QSRweb.com says your tech-based systems for managing inventory and invoices can alert you to the theft of food and other supplies. Your POS may also help you detect voids, cancellations or other manipulations of your sales. At a time when loyalty programs are so widespread, your loyalty program can help you identify users who are generating more frequent discounts and reward points than would be legitimate. Informed use of security cameras can also discourage theft of cash and supplies. Of course, having a culture that is sensitive to the causes of employee theft can go far in preventing it, as can making staff aware of your policies in handling it if and when it happens.
Over the past several years, restaurant operators have had to manage a delicate balancing act: Assess and adopt new technology to make business run more efficiently, but do so in a way that engages employees and guests and avoids alienating them. It’s a challenging task to handle when there is often little time in the midst of running a restaurant to sit back and consider the broader picture. As a result, operators may find themselves drowning in too much tech, losing the human touch with guests, and possibly turning off staff who assume they will be replaced by automation. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to reframe your business’s relationship to your tech, emphasizing that it’s not there to take over, but rather to provide a new level of background support that makes it possible for you to provide the best human support you can. A recent report from Modern Restaurant Management provides some suggestions. Think about what you want to provide for your guests – is it friendly service with a personal touch, or do people simply want their food fast so they can get on their way quickly? Build your tech strategy around that. When considering new tech tools or systems, involve your staff in choosing them, giving the people who will be using the tech an opportunity to test it out, ask questions and raise concerns. Then, when training staff on your tech, help them understand the “why” behind it by taking them through each step of the guest journey and demonstrating how the tech supports it.
As you look for ways to make more informed business decisions this year, the data you have on hand will provide a window onto what needs attention – and where you can make the greatest strides. To help, a recent report from Nation’s Restaurant News Intelligence advises operators to add a digital aspect to as many parts of the business as possible – and to aim to ensure the information you collect is complete and provides some nuanced detail about a guest. (For example, the brands that have the best handle on guest data tend to know more than just the person’s basic demographics – they seek to understand the person’s lifetime value, spending habits, order histories and preferred payment method.) Regardless of the kind of restaurant you operate, are there opportunities for you to digitize more transactions, enhance your loyalty program to gather more information on what your guests enjoy, connect every sale to a known guest, and engage guests in more targeted ways? Looking for ways to gather more and better information will help you make the kinds of decisions that can help drive your business forward.
Whether you’re looking to slim down your tech stack this year or integrate new tools, your technology is likely to be the nerve center of your business going forward. Your ability to harness it and have your staff using its full functionality will be critical to managing your business in real time and course-correcting as needed. At a recent Fast Casual Executive Summit, restaurant leaders shared their thoughts about using technology to the greatest advantage. Eric Knott, COO at PDQ Restaurants, emphasized the need for employees beyond the tech team or restaurant leadership to be involved in selecting, testing and determining the need for new tech. "Anytime we evaluate any technology, we bring in a resource group of individuals from the organization to weigh in and get opinions,” he said. “That could be a cashier, somebody that works the drive thru, a store manager. So we have a good group of opinions on how it touches each of them.” These representatives can help you appreciate the nuances of integrating new tech with your service model and what functions are more important to solving existing problems. Beyond that, they can also make for helpful ambassadors and potential trainers of the tech down the line when you’re trying to increase buy-in across your team.
Consumers want restaurant delivery – and not only on cold winter nights. According to research from Statista, the online food delivery market in the U.S. is projected to grow more than 13 percent annually in the next few years, reaching a projected market volume of $534 billion by 2028. It’s a good time to make sure your restaurant’s delivery mechanism works as smoothly as it can and offers guests the convenience they demand as you adopt new technology or consider taking on new delivery partners. Looking at your current delivery capabilities, are you able to rely on your system to deliver a consistent and positive experience to guests? Can your system easily scale up as your business changes and grows? Does it meet your budget constraints? Can it help you respond to order inquiries promptly and accurately? Do its features reflect the features available through your third-party delivery partners or do you need to compromise in certain areas? Do you feel that your system empowers you to act on in-the-moment decisions as business conditions warrant? For example, if you want to update a menu item, offer a limited-time promotion, or turn your delivery availability on or off, can you make a change in an easy, agile move? As you set out to preserve or build your delivery business this year, consider what goals you want it to help you achieve. Make sure you and your team understand and can use its full functionality. Where possible, adapt existing processes so you operate with leaner technology. Finally, review your progress on a regular basis so you can course-correct as needed.
Artificial intelligence may already be supporting various tasks in your restaurant, from automating scheduling to monitoring inventory to personalizing staff training. But it can also serve as a self-contained brainstorming meeting of sorts by helping you develop new ideas that can keep your restaurant fresh for guests. For example, in recent months, chef Tom Aviv made headlines for using Dall-E, the image generator from OpenAI, to design the menu and décor for his restaurant Branja in Miami. One of the results was a chocolate mousse inspired by Picasso. Such uses of AI tools can help you formulate new recipes, identify different ingredient combinations, create engaging menu descriptions, and help you identify ways to bring your restaurant’s décor and online presence into better alignment with your brand. These tools need human intervention to generate the best results, but if you give them increasingly specific prompts, they can trigger new ideas in you that you can use to offer exciting experiences to guests.
As you adopt new tech tools to gather data that helps you identify ways to improve your business, your methods of collecting guests’ personal information are evolving too. Some of this change is likely happening behind the scenes – perhaps the advertising vendor you’re planning to hire has a data protection policy that doesn’t quite align with your values, but that isn’t clear unless you scrutinize the fine print in your contract. If you can make it your practice to understand how your business will be processing guests’ data, what steps you’re taking to protect people’s personal information, how and where to post your policy, and how to discuss it with guests when asked, you can help ensure your guests will trust you with their information and be more willing to share it.