If there is one area of tech to focus on this year, you’ll be in a good spot by smoothing out the process your guests must go through when placing orders and making payment – and finding low-touch, low-interaction ways of doing so. According to a new report from Oracle about consumer expectations for restaurant dining, 73 percent of restaurant patrons would like to reduce their use of cash, 49 percent would like to minimize their human interaction, 46 percent want to settle their bill on a mobile app, and 71 percent wouldn’t mind if restaurants, at the time of online booking, communicated a limit to the amount of time guests could keep a reserved table. This is good news for operators struggling to keep labor. What aspects of your guest experience might be better managed by outsourcing them to tech this year?
To be sure, the pandemic has kickstarted rapid growth for ghost kitchens: CBRE projects they will account for 21 percent of total U.S. restaurant market share by 2025. But at the same time, we’re seeing other new models emerge that are taking advantage of the kitchen real estate that has been left behind as restaurant traffic has retreated from urban locations. Restaurant tech provider Franklin Junction, for one, has created a global host kitchen network that matches restaurants or other hospitality businesses with host kitchens that have similar infrastructure and available capacity. The aim is to generate scale, sales and market share for the partner businesses in the process. As we adapt to the industry’s ongoing evolution, pay attention to your excess – whether that is real estate or something else altogether. Chances are there are new opportunities to put it to use and generate new income streams that can be managed and monitored digitally.
The new technology coming to market holds lots of promise for streamlining orders, payments and data. But those capabilities are only as powerful as your weakest tech tools. If you’re still using elements of legacy systems from over 20 years ago, any benefits of new tech will be limited. Aiming for a cloud-based POS will help you adapt and upgrade more easily in the future, minimize any downtimes and boost your security – and you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. According to Upserve, many third-party vendors have cloud-based apps that allow you to maintain your rewards and promotions planning from legacy systems.
At the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, Technomic’s Joe Pawlak had some good news about key segments of the restaurant industry (and less-great news about another) – namely that business for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants had returned to pre-pandemic levels, but fine dining was still three years away from a full recovery. To be sure, the technology that has kept businesses going during the pandemic has been a closer fit for limited-service restaurants. However, many of the tech tools that have been used to elevate efficiency and hospitality these past two years still apply to full-service restaurants, albeit in different ways. In a recent episode of the webcast Restaurants Redefined from Modern Restaurant Management, three industry professionals weighed in on how they see technology evolving for restaurants after the pandemic – particularly for full-service restaurants. At the front of the house, for example, technology can help ease some of the friction points. What if a restaurant could use geofencing technology to identify when a guest arrives and get a jump on preparing their favorite appetizer or having their usual wine on the table as they sit down? While a full-service restaurant might not want to use a QR code for guest ordering, offering a code (or other app-based option) for paying the bill when the guest is ready to depart could improve the overall experience. Empowering a server to offer a refund or other check adjustment on the spot as needed via tech tools can also boost service. At the back of the house, technology that minimizes human interaction – ovens, grills and other appliances that don’t require much human oversight – will help free up staff to elevate guests’ experience at the front of house. Finding ways to adapt the technology available – not so much to minimize human contact but to improve the human contact that full-service is known for – might just help hasten the recovery of these businesses.
At a time when every extra bit of profit is critical, it’s important for your customers to be ordering food from your restaurant app and, ideally, collecting their order from you – as opposed to calling a third-party delivery provider to bring it to them. If you’re trying to convert guests from third-party channels right now, focus on offering a good introductory deal that will entice people to order via your restaurant directly, then making it as easy as possible for them to stay with you as opposed to reverting back to the third-party app. That could mean placing a flyer in every third-party order bag that leaves your restaurant and including a coupon for a substantial discount off of a future restaurant-app order, as well as a QR code that the recipient can scan to get your app. From that point, you will have an entry point you can use to send subsequent offers they can redeem when they use your app and/or collect an order curbside. And while those offers may not be as substantial as the initial one, they can still provide a discount from what the customer would have to pay a third-party provider. You can also continue to use the data you collect from your app to make your offers increasingly customized. When you test the experience of ordering through your app and compare it to the ease of ordering via a third-party provider, where are the snags? Ironing them out should mean the difference between retaining the customer ordering via your app and having them return to the third-party app on subsequent orders.
If your restaurant has added a drive-thru or simply has more customers forming a line outside your door to place and collect orders these days, consider extending your wi-fi coverage to the area surrounding your facility. By having your staff walk back through the line to take orders and payments, you can not only cut wait times but also gain an opportunity to upsell your menu to hungry customers.
Do you use photos of menu items on your website? If so, how well do they represent the dishes you offer? Having clear, accurate photos of your menu items (both in online and in-store menus) saves time for your staff, who don’t have to answer questions about what a dish is like. What’s more, it can also drive other important efficiencies behind the scenes: According to research from Zuppler, compelling photos can elevate your effectiveness online. Having labeled images of menu items can boost your ranking in Google searches and also improve conversion rates, since fewer people abandon online shopping carts when they see a photo of what they are buying.
If you can automate food preparation as much as possible, you will reduce waste and grow your margins. While small operators might believe having a kitchen robot is an impossible expense, the pandemic may be changing that. The growth of virtual restaurants – and the creative approaches to challenges that operators have found during the pandemic – have increased the number of offsite options that can bring automation within reach for smaller operators. If you have food preparation tasks that could benefit from automation, consider other businesses in your area that likely have the same needs. At a time when so much food preparation is being done away from a restaurant’s public-facing location, you may be able to share the expense of a robotic machine based in an offsite kitchen that can churn out precisely chopped ingredients on a larger scale for multiple businesses.