You’ve likely heard some Cinderella stories when it comes to restaurants and TikTok. A happy guest posts a creative video and the next day, the surprised restaurant operator opens to a line of 100 people waiting to eat. (That’s roughly what happened last December for Skirt Steak, the New York restaurant serving steak and unlimited fries.) To be sure, TikTok packs some power when it comes to restaurant marketing. But hitting on that lightning-in-a-bottle moment where you send a post viral can be pretty elusive. On top of that, tastes for different platforms shift so quickly that if you’re not among the early adopters of a platform that then becomes popular, you may not get much traction. While there is no formula for capturing a moment that ends up going viral, it’s important to focus on the constant: video remains an important tool to be used for restaurant marketing. The restaurant industry is ready-made for video promotion – there is a steady supply of behind-the-scenes action to feature, an ever-changing range of challenges and surprises, and sights and sounds that appeal to people’s senses. Make it a habit to capture this content – or give the task to a staff member to manage. Share a recipe or promote a new special via video. Launch a contest or spread the word about an event. Across social media platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to TikTok, video content is getting the most attention from users (and therefore the most focus from the people running those platforms). But focus less on the platform and more on finding creative ways to use video to get your restaurant’s name out there so you’re ready to share it in a range of ways. It may even be more about inspiring your guests to do it for you. Encourage guests who have positive experiences to share them as video posts on their favorite platform in exchange for a free drink or appetizer during their next visit. Who knows? One video post may end up sending hundreds of guests to your door.
Restaurants that use robotic chefs to prepare food and AI to take orders tend to generate breathless headlines, but as recent news from McDonald’s implies, operators may best handle the strains of labor inflation with mundane restaurant tech for the time being. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski acknowledged recently that automation wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” to solve the brand’s problems with labor inflation. (Restaurant Dive reported that its tests of drive-thru voice ordering were only 80 percent accurate, falling short of the 95 percent accuracy it sought.) Instead, the brand is focusing on customer data to make staffing decisions and reduce labor demand in its stores – something well within the reach of brands far smaller than the likes of McDonald’s. If you’re struggling with the challenges of labor inflation, harnessing your data may reveal some low-tech changes you can make to ensure you have the optimal number of staff at a time, as well as the ones who provide the highest levels of guest satisfaction.
As restaurants have acclimated to pandemic demands for low-touch ordering and pickup, many brands have tech stacks that need to catch up – with tacked-on updates, a range of software suited for specific tasks and bulky equipment that needs integration. Streamlining this setup will continue to be important to restaurant brands struggling to operate efficiently amid inflation, as well as supply and labor shortages. As a recent Forbes report indicates, adopting unified commerce may help multi-unit brands connect disparate pieces of their business, winnowing down their tech vendors and giving them a single view of what’s happening with their customers, staff and marketing. Does your tech give you an uncluttered, unified view of what’s happening in your business so you can make the right decisions?
As we brace for a potential recession, your digital technology may be your restaurant’s best protection. It can help you identify the snags that may prevent you from operating more efficiently. But in an age when there is so much potential data for a restaurant to collect and analyze, analysis paralysis is common. To make the most of the information you collect, focus on several key metrics: how you can best streamline your labor, track staff performance, identify your best-selling items and other items that aren’t as profitable, and slim down your operating hours so you’re open when you’re most likely to profit. This will help you elevate your more profitable items and identify potential waste that is holding you back – whether that is in the form of a low-profit entrée, a low-traffic period that is difficult to staff, or a server who needs support in upselling orders.
Incorporating more technology to manage back-of-house functions in your restaurant isn’t simply a matter of improving efficiency; it may also help you build and sustain the kind of employee culture you want to cultivate. Management plays a role in employee happiness on the job. When they are on the floor and available, they can provide training, support and mentoring. When they are consumed with managing inventory, vendors, scheduling, payroll and other tasks that take them away from their time with the team, staff morale can take a hit. Are there pain points in your business that keep your managers away from the rest of the team and can be reduced with the help of automated tech?
While it seems like every restaurant has a loyalty program these days, there is significant room for improvement: According to new research from Mercator Advisory Group, only 22 percent of consumers are satisfied with the level of personalization offered by their loyalty programs. Harnessing guest data can help you up your game. Make sure your program is connected to every place a customer can place an order with you, online and off, so you can collect transactional data and use it to personalize your efforts to upsell and cross-sell items, or to target them with exclusive limited-time offers or invitations. A QSRweb report says this approach can help you present real-time promotions that are more likely to hit the mark with guests, like offering a discount on two large pizzas to the subset of visitors who would normally order just one.
We’ve all had that sinking feeling when a restaurant staff member presents a device to make payment and a range of potential tips are suggested on screen. While nudging a person to pay more than they had in mind may direct more money to staff in the moment, it doesn’t leave a guest with the best final impression. Other pay-at-the-table offerings may help avoid this situation and offer added benefits at the same time. Modern Restaurant Management reports that text to order functionality has been becoming more popular as a replacement for downloading apps. There are benefits for guest and staff alike when a guest can text their order, receive a link that lets them pay immediately (adding a tip if they like), and save repeat purchases. Even in fine dining establishments, more operators are now incorporating such methods to give guests less physical interaction with staff when it’s time to order and pay. Research shows it can encourage people to spend and tip more – and it also helps free up already-scarce staff for other tasks.
The past few years have given restaurant operators a crash course in the importance of collecting data – about guests, ingredients, sales performance and many other factors. Have you applied this approach to identifying potential staff? By taking the time to analyze data about what works for your business – and not simply casting a wide net and hoping you bring in some good people – you stand a better chance to attracting and keeping staff who are well suited to your business. This report from Modern Restaurant Management advises mining employee data by taking surveys of employees. What is important to them about their position? What benefits would keep them in their job? How does your business measure up to competing businesses (both inside and outside of the industry) when it comes to pay, benefits, growth opportunities and job security? Perhaps you can identify even incremental improvements that could help you find and keep good people. Or, maybe those improvements aren’t possible for you financially. In that case, having this information at your fingertips now can still be valuable in driving you to retool your business model. At a time when so much about a restaurant is learned online before a person even visits, give your website’s recruitment page a tune-up – much like you’d make your online menu more mobile-friendly for a guest. Can an applicant quickly scan the page for basic information about your business and apply on the spot?
Love them or hate them, QR code menus seem to be sticking around. That is good news for many restaurant operators, particularly when the code enables ordering and payment from the table – and in the process, frees up staff, gets orders to the kitchen faster and minimizes order inaccuracies. That said, the guest experience of using these menus can be a bit lacking. If you find more guests asking for paper menus, it may be time to revamp your setup. Give your QR code menu the same treatment you would give your mobile-enabled website – limit the need for scrolling, expanding and reducing the screen, and make it possible for guests to get the overall sense of your menu in the space of a few seconds.
Could you reduce your tech spending? Chances are the answer is yes, particularly if you have added on to your existing tech stack in the past few years or not attempted negotiation in recent months. As new entrants to the restaurant tech market have increased exponentially since the start of the pandemic, their services have come down in price. If you’re looking to make additions, streamline your tech, or simply secure more competitive rates on your internet package, contact your providers to identify potential cost savings.