One change to life after the pandemic that could be a lasting one is the drift in meal times and snack times during the day. Your online ordering system – and your use of it to manage pre-orders during the day – can help you accommodate those changes and serve more people. A recent Eater report describes how the owners of Dee Dee, a Thai food truck in Austin, are actually doing more sales volume now than before the pandemic. While their customers have long asked if they could place orders ahead of time, before COVID-19 this was too difficult for the owners to manage in the midst of serving the long line of customers appearing at their window each day. That line could require a wait of between 45 minutes and an hour, but now that the owners have taken their ordering fully online, there is no longer any wait. Knowing when people will want their food – and having the freedom to spread out those orders – helps them churn out more of them in less time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Boston-area Kowloon Restaurant had to adapt its 1,200-seat restaurant to new operating requirements for COVID-19, it got creative – with technology and with the experience it decided to offer guests. It adopted a new online payment system that allows people to start a drinks tab, view menus, order food, pay, tip and even ask the restaurant to wrap leftovers. It also converted its large parking lot into a drive-in movie theater, which gives guests an old-school, carhop-style experience while minimizing contact with staff. How can tech help you change the experience you’re able to offer guests right now?
By 2021, almost 50 million people will be using food delivery apps. It’s a good time to understand how people are using your mobile app if you have one. Placing an order may be only one part of it. According to The Rail, while 32 percent of restaurant mobile app users are using them to order food, even more – 42 percent – are looking for information on coupons or other deals. Close behind are those looking up your restaurant’s menu (38 percent) or searching for local food options (37 percent). These figures may change how you go about attracting people to your app – or in how you prioritize updating the information on it. Consider push notifications when you’re running promotions to encourage customers to begin earning rewards. Understand – and continue to ask customers to confirm – which rewards appeal most to them. As for your menu and local profile, make sure your information and menu are up to date on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
If your restaurant hadn’t been adopting technology to help manage business prior to the pandemic, it is surely heading in that direction now. As you prepare your business for the future, how can you best use technology to empower your restaurant – and not overwhelm or sidetrack it? Senior technology leaders who comprise the Forbes Technology Council recently weighed in on the tech functions that are ripe for an upgrade right now. When it comes to restaurants, expect improvements to logistics automation in an effort to protect the supply chain, cybersecurity and digital privacy protections as more data moves online, and tech offerings that enable a contact-free restaurant experience. As you look at your operation, which of these areas do you anticipate needing a boost from technology in the months ahead? The vast array of options coming to market will create opportunity for restaurant operators needing solutions.
In case it wasn’t already clear pre-pandemic, off-premise dining isn’t going anywhere. Since third-party ordering poses ample challenges for operators it’s important to entice customers to order directly from you. Have you thought about how to encourage them to do that in the coming months? You might try incentives like filling every takeout order with a coupon good for a discount off their first direct online order from you, or offering some extra value for signing up for your in-house app (if you want to build your own ordering app, here is one option that may help https://bit.ly/36maBNz). Beyond that, make it as easy as possible for customers to order from you directly. Ensure your business information is accurate and up-to-date – particularly with adjusted hours – on Google. Your ordering button and menu links should be visible as soon as someone loads your webpage. Toast also suggests you find ways to simply make it more interesting to come to you directly – from including a personal thank-you note or small Instagrammable memento in each takeout bag, to selling special merchandise, to offering rotating promotions like Taco Tuesday to-go packages or EBTV (Everything But the Vodka) take-home Bloody Mary kits.
If you’re looking for technology help as you reopen, there are deals to be had on everything from third-party delivery to tech platforms as companies look to stand out in the market and rebuild business themselves. One case in point is OpenTable. Even if you haven’t taken reservations before, you may be considering taking them while social distancing requirements call for fewer guests in your restaurant at one time and for more vigilant management of traffic at your building’s entrance. OpenTable just announced its Open Door program, a three-tiered, subscription-based reservations program that provides services at a discount for the remainder of 2020. The program allows operators to access the OpenTable system without subscription fees through the end of the year. Further, there are no cover fees through September 20 and up to 50 percent discounts on cover fees for the fourth quarter of the year. Learn more at https://restaurant.opentable.com/opendoorprogram-2/