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/
As technology has become a bigger part of people’s lives – and a growing part of the restaurant industry in recent years – there has been much discussion and warning about its potential to replace humans or to stifle human connection. But for so many people right now, technology is precisely what is making it possible for people to remain connected to family, friends and colleagues despite the physical isolation we have had to adopt. People are gathering for virtual happy hours and dinner parties – occasions that we may not have considered before. As we emerge from the pandemic, are you looking at your technology any differently? Will this change how we develop technology for restaurants and consumers alike? How will you want to use it to help protect you in the future – and to better connect you with the people you serve?
Mobile loyalty apps will have a significant impact on the industry this year. That was the sentiment of 31 percent of respondents to a recent TD Bank survey of 254 owners, operators and executives of independent and franchised multi-unit restaurants. A separate survey from TrendSource found that diners are more interested in using a restaurant’s app for delivery and pick-up than a third-party app. Part of what makes restaurant-branded mobile apps an easy win for restaurants is that whether you operate a food truck, pop-up restaurant or fine-dining restaurant, there is mobile app functionality that can ease ordering and payment, deliver customized promotions and build loyalty – and at accessible price points.
If you’re looking to steer your restaurant away from third-party delivery this year – whether due to the expense, customer data ownership, development of your in-house technology or some combination of the above, you will need to find a way to bring customers to you online while third-party delivery companies try to compete for their business. Noah Glass, founder and CEO of the mobile and online food ordering platform Olo, said restaurants need to take steps to protect their territory amid the rise of delivery companies and ghost kitchens. He told Forbes that one of the simplest steps restaurant operators can take to protect themselves and ensure customers find them via the restaurant’s app and website is to use a non-compete agreement that prevents third-party vendors from bidding on certain brand-related keywords used in online searches. Such agreements can prevent vendors from redirecting online traffic that would otherwise go to your restaurant.
Any technology you introduce to make the process of ordering and managing guest inquiries is only good if it delivers the experience your guests want from you. But how should your restaurant evolve when one guest wants to order via a smartphone without any human interaction and another with a serious food allergy takes comfort in speaking with a human when placing an order? Restaurant tech is available to create the sort of VIP experience you want to provide, no matter your guest preferences. Consider Chipotle, which has been generating positive news in recent months for its automated digital ordering experience. As Forbes reports, SNQ3 Restaurant Solutions provides Chipotle’s voice-ordering system, which automates online, app and phone orders and allows customers to choose the kind of interaction they prefer. In response, the system can rapidly process reorders, greet a returning customer by name, and, if a customer has questions or concerns that the voice bot can’t accommodate, a live agent is there to help as back-up.
A recent study by NCR and Technomic found that two-thirds of restaurant operators don’t use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their businesses. The respondents said that if they were to invest in AI, it would be to help drive their mobile ordering, mobile applications and promotions. The restaurant operators surveyed who aren’t yet using AI said they either don’t fully understand its potential benefits or they hesitate to invest in emerging technology. Where do you stand? If you’re among the hold-outs who think AI may have some potential to help your business, imagine being to your most loyal guests what Netflix or Spotify are to people who love movies and music – having the ability to match your guests with meals they may not have considered but are likely to enjoy. AI can both empower your ordering functionality and make it seamless. As a report in Restaurant Technology News explains, on top of allowing a guest to order via mobile app, AI technology can offer functionality like conversational ordering through Facebook Messenger or Alexa. Having voice and chatbot ordering powered by AI can allow your customers to use any kind of phrasing when they place an order. Then, based on a person’s ordering history and cross-comparisons with other customers who have similar tastes, the technology can suggest meals and upsell additional items they are likely to enjoy – instead of leaving those guest experiences to chance.
Do you feel social media posting pressure? The need to post regularly to stay relevant can cause restaurant operators to focus too much on social media networks and neglect their website, which is the one place where you have full control over content (and is therefore where your online focus should be). Does your restaurant’s website tick all of the boxes when it comes to attracting visitors and giving them what they need? The Digital Restaurant suggests all restaurant websites have five features: First, you (likely) need a mobile-friendly design with mobile analytics, since most people are probably finding you with a mobile device. Just check Google Analytics first to confirm that your site is getting a lot of traffic from mobile devices before you invest in new design. Make sure your restaurant’s basic information is updated and complete. It should include your address and directions, operating hours, menu and nutritional information, phone number and email address/contact form. Next, ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads pages quickly and has a design that complements the design of your physical restaurant. Sites like https://www.usertesting.com/ can provide objective feedback about the experience of navigating your website. Four, provide some testimonials and social proof that other guests have had great experiences with you. That means integrating links to your social media networks and showing positive reviews from sites like Yelp. Finally, email continues to be the way to keep your guest connections strong, so provide links to subscribe to your email list – via a pop-up invitation and in relevant places on your site. Of course, once you have those basics down, you can continue to fine-tune your site with engaging photos, location-based personalization, online ordering and reservations, search engine optimization, and content marketing such as recipes, videos, articles or other content about your food, staff, values or other topics designed to help guests connect with your brand.
As technology has changed restaurant processes ranging from reservation taking to appliance monitoring, the process of managing inventory can seem analog in comparison, with many operators still relying on such quaint technology as the phone and fax machine when sourcing ingredients. But as Tech Crunch reports, the startup Choco is looking to change that by bringing the seamlessness of food delivery to ingredient ordering via a mobile ordering platform. Choco’s interface allows for operators to consult a list of ingredients that they can order with a tap – and to text suppliers as needed (though it appears operators would still need to separately manage ongoing ingredient changes before ordering). Choco reports that its platform is currently available in 15 cities in Europe and the U.S.
The number of internet-enabled devices is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025, or more than triple the number of such devices in use by the end of 2018, according to the technology firm ITProPortal. A technology-driven restaurant owner can adopt internet-enabled devices to monitor and manage everything from the operation’s food waste to its energy use. While these devices promise significant cost savings and efficiencies, their access to your data creates new points of vulnerability. It is increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches as threats become more sophisticated and employees who aren’t adequately trained leave a business exposed to threats. To help manage such threats, the tech security firm ControlScan advises operators to use next-generation firewalls to limit entry points for malware, and to use a managed security service provider that can identify vulnerabilities in a network, investigate and report security breaches, and troubleshoot other network security problems. Whether you outsource your network security or not, being able to keep tabs on your network in those ways is becoming increasingly important as businesses across sectors find that it’s not a question of if a security event will occur, but when.
If you have ever visited a bakery at the end of the day and scored some steeply discounted bread, you might appreciate an app like Feedback, which helps restaurants with extra meals on hand at the end of the day connect with hungry consumers. Pymts.com reports that the app uses a dynamic pricing model, so a restaurant might charge $10 for a salad at the start of the day but then adjust the discount based on demand throughout the afternoon. While the app is based in Canada and hasn’t yet made it to the U.S., it offers a more universal lesson on how harnessing data about what you’re selling each day can give you tools to help you run business more efficiently, limit waste, and even attract some new customers. The developer behind the app was inspired to pursue the idea when he was presented with the opportunity to buy discounted pizzas at the end of a restaurant shift. How can you use your tech to connect your extra food supply with guests?