Employees who don’t feel heard aren’t apt to stick around for long. On the other hand, those who do feel heard – and who also believe they are being trusted with the information they need to do their jobs – are more likely to buy into the mission and values of their employer. Tech-based communication tools can help ensure everyone hears the messages they need to hear, when they need to hear them. They also provide your team with a repository for their comments, questions, criticisms and ideas. Meanwhile, they free up time for more senior staff and make sure everyone is hearing the same message. In your business, are you using your technology to keep everyone on the same page and prevent miscommunication?
It used to be a whole lot simpler: Restaurants were valued as places where consumers could share a meal and connect with people. While that is still the case, the pandemic has turned the idea on its head. Whereas the early months of the pandemic made it necessary for this “coming together” to happen at home or virtually in an effort to keep business flowing, many foodservice operators – along with complementary brands – are now redefining what it means to gather, even as dining rooms fill back up again. A new food-and-drink-trends report from Mintel mentions the increase of online hubs that offer ecommerce, brand-specific communities and opportunities to socialize virtually. Some restaurants are already well on their way: As reported by The Spoon, Chipotle recently created a Halloween promotion in partnership with the online game platform Roblox. Roblox gamers could enter a virtual Chipotle restaurant (specially decorated for Halloween) and collect a promo code good for a free burrito back in the real world. Granted, such partnerships may well be more feasible for major brands than small independents, but the example shows how the idea of coming together over restaurant food is being reimagined for the current times. How might you reimagine what it means to create memorable experiences for your guests?
Restaurant technology is one industry that has thrived during the pandemic – but we have yet to see how that will fully manifest itself. Restaurant Business reports that more than $5 billion has entered the industry so far this year alone– and that the investment has been feeding many mergers of complementary businesses that will likely develop new all-in-one solutions for restaurant operators. If you currently operate a broad array of tools and systems that don’t communicate with each other as well as they could, you can expect to see new options on the horizon that simplify tech for restaurants (and enough of them to make pricing competitive).
Many restaurants have added new guest-facing technology in the past 18 months – or at least considered adding it. According to the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry report for this year, 40 percent of operators said they added tech solutions to their businesses. At the same time, there have been a dizzying number of options coming to market and operators have had more-limited resources to devote to additions. To ensure any new tech resource passes the litmus test for practicality, aim for it to simplify and smooth out the key pain points of the guest experience, yet fade into the background. How easy is it for a guest to use tech to view your menu? Can a guest quickly alert someone on your staff if they have a question? Can they place their order and pay without any delay? Can they split the tab with a friend who wants to pay another way? Consider any potential snag a guest may experience in the duration of their time with you – and how your tech can minimize it, shorten it or eliminate it.
You likely have guests whose habits you’d like to change: The one who regularly orders delivery from you even though he lives in your neighborhood, or the couple who visits semi-regularly who you’d like to see more frequently. Understanding and mining your data can help transform some of those guest behaviors in the direction you’d like. Allison Page, founder and chief product officer of the restaurant platform SevenRooms, told the Spoon recently that data is changing the game for restaurants by empowering them to build better relationships with guests. When you know the regular customer who orders delivery from you lives nearby, for example, you can entice him with a promotion of his favorite appetizer if he collects his order in person. If you know the favorite dish or wine of the couple who visits you only every now and then, you can invite them to a wine-tasting event or other experience featuring the wine they like along with a new dish you’re promoting. What clues are your guests providing through the data they’re sharing with you?
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.