What has COVID-19 revealed to you about your technology? When you can quickly use your systems to assess your restaurant’s sales and profits, you can avoid costly mistakes. On the flip side, if you are not receptive to new technology, are struggling with an older POS system, or are using newer technology but don’t know how to use it to make daily decisions, you’re likely scrambling and struggling. In a recent episode of The Restaurant Technology Guys, hospitality tech entrepreneur Jordan Thaeler talked about how tech has inundated restaurant operators with new capabilities for gathering data but offered much less help when it comes to harnessing that data easily to make good decisions. He said if there has been any business-related benefit from COVID-19, it may be that is has brought weaknesses – like antiquated POS systems – to the surface and shown operators what must change. If you’re struggling to make your data work for you, talk to Team Four about how you can use it more efficiently to make actionable decisions to support your business each day.
Use tech to support your staff this winter
This winter, you may be in the position of having to train more staff to step in, whether due to employee illness or other obligations. Since it’s more important than ever to be able to use time and labor efficiently, make sure you are using technology to deliver training and task reminders where possible. As Modern Restaurant Management reports, a kitchen display system can allow you to generate phantom orders or other tasks at scheduled times to help remind staff of what needs to happen when. It can also offer recipe viewer functionality to help train someone to prepare a dish and ensure quality.
Last year at this time, having an on-trend menu or holiday promotions may have been priorities for you. Fast-forward a year and restaurant hospitality – and the ethics surrounding it – looks much different. One recent Washington Post article mentioned how diners, in general, are going through a more rigorous decision-making process when it comes to determining if and where they will dine out. Criteria that would have seemed outlandish just a year ago – like a restaurant’s COVID-19 protocols, table-distancing measures, neighbourhood and amount of foot traffic – now speak volumes to consumers about a restaurant’s potential risks (and therefore, the quality of their hospitality). If local restrictions fluctuate in the coming months, how will you consistently communicate safety to your guests and off-premise customers? Continue to promote – via your website, social media and in-store signage – that you are committed to protecting the safety of both your staff and your guests. If guests want to access detailed information about how you’re handling COVID-19, provide details on your website. Post your employee sick leave policy, specific cleaning protocols and schedule – yes, recent research indicates that more consumers want to know these details – and what you are doing to protect the safety of off-premise meals as well. Much like restaurants that have developed a loyal following of customers who have food allergies, restaurants that visibly protect guest safety – not just for show but as a deeply felt value – stand to earn guest loyalty too.
COVID-19 has forced operators to scale down their dining room business while scaling up their capacity for off-premise orders. But preparing for an increase in online orders isn’t as simple as plugging your existing menu into your website. Your online menu needs to exude the same professionalism as the experience of sitting in your dining room. But instead of relying on your décor and friendly servers, your online menu alone must make people feel comfortable that they are in good hands. Restaurant Den suggests operators keep several tips in mind when revising their online menu, including scaling down choices, clarifying ingredients (and directing those with food allergies to more information on their website), and checking the spelling of each item.
Sure, the ability to pay for an order without touching a credit card keypad is appealing during a pandemic. But offering these payments provides other critical benefits to your business. They can integrate with your loyalty program to automatically track not only a guest’s visits but their specific tastes, while also expediting payments and table turnover – a needed benefit at a time when dining rooms have limited capacity. They are also more secure. As the Restaurant Technology Guys report, when a customer pays via Apple or Google Pay, their credit card information is not shared on a restaurant’s system – and therefore wouldn’t be accessed in the case of a data breach.
Could ghost kitchens become more the rule than the exception in the wake of COVID-19? It’s difficult to argue with the numbers. Automated kitchen technology systems are demonstrating how kitchens can churn out dozens of dishes per hour with minimal assistance from staff. (Kitchen Robotics’ newly released Beastro robotic kitchen, which claims to be the “world’s first robotic dark kitchen,” was designed to handle the planning, preparation and delivery of up to 45 dishes per hour – and only requires assistance in the plating of dishes and the refilling of feeders, the company says.) At a time when it’s difficult to not only find labor but also to quickly shift gears and guarantee safety if and when an employee becomes sick, the automation of kitchen tasks could be worth the investment – or at least some exploration. (In case you missed it, U.S. Foods launched a ghost kitchens program recently to help operators create new revenue streams.)
As more quick-service restaurants look for ways to remove friction from the food-collection process, expect to see more vehicle-recognition technology in use that can detect the arrival of a customer and prepare their order for a quick pass off. It might become a useful tool for other restaurants that have adopted curbside collection for the long term too. White Castle, which has adopted a range of technologies in both the kitchen and at the point of sale, is adding vehicle-recognition tech to its lineup. Mastercard is providing it through its new AI-Powered Drive Through Platform.
We all know that customer data is becoming increasingly valuable for restaurants as they look to better understand taste preferences, evaluate emerging menu trends, and make decisions around everything from staffing to inventory. But how complete of a picture are you getting from the data you collect in a single customer transaction? And how valuable is that data if a person is often ordering on behalf of others, as might happen in an office setting? As QSR Magazine reports, restaurants could benefit from forming new data partnerships across a number of different areas of a foodservice operation – whether that be with delivery vendors, suppliers, credit card partners or other brands within similar foodservice categories. Are there opportunities for you to collaborate with other businesses across the industry to share and gather insights in a way that still protects consumer privacy?
New research from the CDC reported that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were about twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than those who tested negative. While it’s obviously not welcome news for operators eager to reopen indoor dining rooms, perhaps it will provide some operators with the justification they are looking for to adopt more technology for the long term. This report from The Spoon predicts that the time may have come for restaurants to look beyond some of the piecemeal solutions they have been implementing to provide a contactless experience for customers – and adopt more robots to facilitate such tasks as meal preparation, food running and dishwashing. As winter arrives and operators anticipate challenges around COVID and labor, such an approach may just offer a long-term safety net.
Eager to drive more sales through your app? Try offering enticing options that are only available to people ordering via that channel. Sweetgreen, which has experienced a 178 percent jolt in digital orders through the course of the pandemic, is among the chains that have recently released collections of online-only dishes based on the favorite food orders of notable chefs and athletes. Even if you don’t have well-known guests to tout, simply creating and promoting dishes (or offers of bonus loyalty points or two-for-one appetizers) that are exclusive to your app can help bolster off-premise sales and safeguard your business for the months ahead.