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.
For most people, a smartphone is like an extra appendage that makes life a bit easier and more convenient. Having your employees manage their schedules via smartphone app is one small way to make their work lives easier and avoid burnout. If you’re not already using team apps and digital scheduling tools to manage your staff’s comings and goings, consider doing so as you get organized for 2022. They can help managers plan optimal scheduling based on sales forecasts and enable employees to check their schedule or swap a shift on the go.
At a time when restaurant operators can’t count on dine-in customers, off-premise sales have taken on elevated importance. This also means operators are trying to elevate the experience of ordering food off-premise so that it feels more like ordering from the restaurant’s dining room. Restaurant Business reports that a number of brands are updating their apps to improve the ordering experience with information that a server might otherwise provide to a guest onsite: Outback Steakhouse had added more detailed menu descriptions and photos, for example, and Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes has added pop-ups that recommend complementary dishes. Whether you have an app or would simply like to improve the experience of ordering on your website, think about the aspects of ordering (and dining) in your restaurant that are currently lost when a customer is off-premise. How might you bring the off-premise experience alive for them?
If you’ve ever ordered a pizza from Domino’s, you’ve gotten a glimpse into how a restaurant brand can harness technology to expedite ordering, upsell successfully and improve loyalty. But it’s one thing for a behemoth brand to accomplish this and quite another for a smaller, independent one. Slice, a tech platform for independent pizza restaurants, is looking to change that and its consumer app has attracted 16,000 independents so far. But according to The Spoon, which named Slice to its list of top-10 tech companies recently, Slice’s acquisition of the POS startup InStore is what’s really allowing it to help indie restaurants improve their customer experience. It’s enabling smaller pizza restaurants to offer the kind of loyalty programs and integrated marketing programs that make ordering from a small, one-store pizzeria as seamless as it is at Domino’s.
An app-based reusable packaging system that has been piloted in restaurants this year might provide a model for how sustainable packaging can improve sales and loyalty (and harness the valuable guest data that comes along with it). A company called R.ware (an offshoot of the reusable R.cup often found in stadiums) allows restaurants to get propylene hard plastic packaging in a range of sizes and styles that can be washed and sanitized multiple times. Restaurants are given a small collection bin equipped with an iPad. After guests are finished with a take-out container, which is labeled with instructions on how to download an app and scan a QR code, they can return the container to the collection bin and start earning rewards. Participating restaurants have freedom to customize those rewards to entice guests to return. In the process, they are reducing waste – and likely gaining some fans who want to reduce their takeout waste too.
Third-party delivery apps have their benefits: Your restaurant may gain access to a more streamlined ordering interface that customers demand, as well as much-needed brand exposure. Unfortunately, you are likely paying dearly in exchange. But you don’t have to commit to one approach. You might diversify your business, with a small portion of your delivery going through a third-party app and the majority going through a white-label delivery platform – GoParrot is one example – that charges a flat fee for an ordering technology setup customized to your brand. It could be a way to offer guests a streamlined ordering process, retain your customer data and also gain the benefits of exposure on a third-party app.
At a time when restaurant operators are scrambling to attract and retain staff, every little tool designed to make restaurant jobs worthwhile can help. One such tool is an on-demand payment app that can give employees instant access to the wages they have earned that day. A number of large brands have signed on to use on-demand payment systems including Branch, DailyPay and Instant. Beyond immediate payment of wages, an on-demand payment app might be used to distribute tips or bonuses, as well as to provide financial management tools to employees. As a result, they can help lighten the load on restaurant managers too.
As the contactless restaurant experience has become the norm over the past year, some restaurant operators may worry about permanently losing the kinds of quality in-person connections with consumers that once helped them build and sustain relationships. As we emerge from the pandemic, how will restaurants be able to deliver personal service in an era where physical distance, minimal conversation and touch-free experiences continue to be encouraged? The good news is that while technology enables more low-contact experiences, it also helps businesses get more personal – and restaurants can use it to build relationships in new ways. To a great extent, consumers have lived their lives online throughout the pandemic. They have become more accustomed to the Amazon experience – being able to order an item in a minimum number of clicks, having the site predict what they are apt to enjoy, and being less suspicious about having companies track the items they buy and enjoy. Some restaurants are literally using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide an Amazon-style experience. Using that kind of approach – and there are many services that can provide it – a restaurant with a strong command of its customer data can direct different targeted promotions to people whenever they happen to be in the neighborhood or on the days they are apt to crave a particular order. What better way to deliver personal service than to predict what a person wants before they even know they want it?
Digital restaurant sales still have room to climb. According to new data from market research firm Incisiv, digital sales will comprise 54 percent of all limited-service and quick-service restaurant sales by 2025 – a 70 percent increase over pre-pandemic estimates. Forbes reports that as restaurants look to position themselves to accommodate more digital sales, new partnerships between tech companies and large restaurant brands are focusing on such aspects of the customer journey as using artificial intelligence in marketing, accepting customer orders via social media and messaging platforms, and enabling autonomous driving as a means of making delivery financially feasible.