Restaurants are managing orders from more sources than ever – yet still need to prepare those items at the same time. If they’re short on staff, juggling this and keeping customers informed about their order can be a challenge. But smart pacing tools for order fulfillment can help. As Pymnts.com reports, that could include an automated text to a guest when their food or their table is ready, or a QR code that allows a guest to place an order or pay from the table as they leave.
It’s never been more important for restaurant operators and employees to understand – in real time – how their business is functioning. Nowadays, there is technology available to monitor everything from an incremental change in the price of a key ingredient to the identity of a customer approaching your restaurant. But old-fashioned communication between company leaders and the managers and front-line employees interacting with customers may get lost in the shuffle – and that’s a problem at a time when safety procedures and employee policies are evolving so regularly. According to a new survey of 100 senior restaurant leaders, direct communication (as opposed to company-wide updates) goes a longer way in connecting with employees in a more personal way, showing respect, imparting company values and relaying the up-to-date information employees need to do their jobs well. As you consider new tech tools to adopt this year, prioritize those that can help boost direct peer-to-peer and cross-location communication, as well as the effective sharing of best practices.
Imagine driving home one day and telling the voice-powered assistant in your car to order your favorite pizza from Domino’s so it’s ready for curbside pickup when you drive in. Or asking it to make dinner reservations for your anniversary, which always springs to mind during your morning commute but gets forgotten once you arrive at work. This is A-commerce, or auto commerce, and a new study from Rakuten Ready predicts this new form of initiating transactions will become a growing force for businesses in the next five to 10 years. While A-commerce may sound futuristic, by preparing your business for it now, you can reap benefits in the near term and more easily incorporate it into your business model when it becomes more widespread. The study advises restaurants to start experimenting with simple voice-powered mobile applications and business models now. For example, update your Google My Business account to make sure your restaurant is easily found in local listings. Using geolocation tools, which will be central to A-commerce, can also serve you now by helping you develop and fine-tine your local online marketing plans while streamlining curbside pickups.
If you don’t regularly use video to promote your food, people and background story, listen up: A Brightcove study found that 76 percent of adults report that they make a purchase after watching a marketing video – and nearly half of consumers watch branded video on social media. As you prepare to ramp your business back up after the pandemic, consider creating a calendar of video content that you can share across your social media channels. There are a multitude of options to try. Record a mini cooking tutorial with your chef – or have him or her share favorite tips for using a seasonal ingredient. Talk about how you source food and make decisions about where to get the items you serve – or record your visit to a local farmer’s market or small supplier. Have a new staffer on board with an interesting life story? Record a brief interview with the person and ask questions that share a bit about his personality, background and professional role. How about your restaurant’s story – or the history behind your restaurant’s location? You can share promotional content too – like a contest to win an appetizer platter for the Superbowl or a house-brewed beer subscription for a month. The key is to find ways to share your restaurant’s authentic self and create useful or entertaining content that viewers will want to share. Look at this winter as a time to build your brand and strengthen customer loyalty for when people feel safe returning in bigger numbers.
Last year at this time, having an on-trend menu or holiday promotions may have been priorities for you. Fast-forward a year and restaurant hospitality – and the ethics surrounding it – looks much different. One recent Washington Post article mentioned how diners, in general, are going through a more rigorous decision-making process when it comes to determining if and where they will dine out. Criteria that would have seemed outlandish just a year ago – like a restaurant’s COVID-19 protocols, table-distancing measures, neighbourhood and amount of foot traffic – now speak volumes to consumers about a restaurant’s potential risks (and therefore, the quality of their hospitality). If local restrictions fluctuate in the coming months, how will you consistently communicate safety to your guests and off-premise customers? Continue to promote – via your website, social media and in-store signage – that you are committed to protecting the safety of both your staff and your guests. If guests want to access detailed information about how you’re handling COVID-19, provide details on your website. Post your employee sick leave policy, specific cleaning protocols and schedule – yes, recent research indicates that more consumers want to know these details – and what you are doing to protect the safety of off-premise meals as well. Much like restaurants that have developed a loyal following of customers who have food allergies, restaurants that visibly protect guest safety – not just for show but as a deeply felt value – stand to earn guest loyalty too.
As strange as these times have been for restaurants, they’re also strange for restaurant guests – and helping the public understand and follow your updated procedures takes some work. A recent webinar from Winsight and SevenRooms pointed out how tech can help hold the restaurant guest’s hand through the changes and make them feel not just more informed but also more cared for while COVID-19 persists. Tech management of reservations and communications around seating can be especially helpful in preparing a guest for their visit before they enter the restaurant. Instead of gathering at the host’s stand in the front of the restaurant to inquire about wait times, for example, guests can wait outside or in their car and receive an alert. When their table is ready, they can receive another text alert asking them to enter the restaurant. Operators can use tech to set guest expectations too. By specifying the location of available tables and pointing out a reservation end time, restaurants can help guests plan accordingly – and also get some assurance they will have a table available for other guests at a certain point.
Even as businesses begin reopen around the country, they won’t be returning to “business as usual” – at least until a vaccine or other treatment becomes available. As your business pushes through these challenging times, it’s critical to prepare your restaurant for when you do return and ensure that your connections with customers are as strong as possible. What lessons are you learning now that will improve your resilience going forward? What are your customers demanding and how can you deliver on it? Can you be more adaptable and nimble when it comes to your service model, menu, inventory and staffing? How might you implement technology that could facilitate social distancing when you welcome customers back to your dining room? Now is a good time to connect with your regulars and solidify your relationships with them so they can help drive your comeback. At every opportunity, share your story with them on your website and social media – how you got into the business, how you and your employees are coping now, and what it looks like behind the scenes of your restaurant at the moment. If you’re closed right now or operating at a much-reduced capacity, cook a favorite dish at home and livestream it on Facebook or Instagram – or make a quick, quirky video on TikTok (find out how here https://buff.ly/309tO53 ). At a time when most of your customers are at home and looking for ways to connect with the experiences they love, remind them that you’re one of them. Try to look at this time as a period of experimentation – with the social media you use, the stories you share, and the service structure you use – to prepare your business to come back better than it was before.