A recent Technomic report, “Harnessing Technology to Drive Off-Premise Sales,” found that when consumers are ordering restaurant food, 60 percent of the time they are ordering it for off-premise consumption – whether at their home, office, or other location convenient to them. However, there still isn’t a smooth connection between what consumers want and what restaurants currently provide, particularly when it comes to technology. While there are certainly outliers – Taco Bell, for one, is tapping into artificial intelligence to deliver a more personalized in-app ordering experience – Technomic’s report found that 56 percent of consumers want to be able to order delivery from a restaurant’s website, but only 45 percent of operators offer the option. Similarly, 43 percent of those who order delivery do so via a restaurant’s app, but only 18 percent of operators offer that option. More broadly, consumers expressed an interest in having more ordering flexibility via technology than they currently have: For example, 31 percent of consumers said they would like to be able to place a food order via a smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo, but only 12 percent of operators make that possible. As you consider new technology – or how to adapt your restaurant service model for off-premise sales – are you aware of how your guests want to connect with you and how you can best facilitate those connections?
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.
As a new year approaches, it’s prime time to take stock of what went well and set the stage for the tests you’re likely to face in 2020. For most operators, labor spending and management continues to be a perennial challenge, along with such obstacles as managing the complexities of your inventory and finding a profitable path to offering delivery. Restaurant365 shared a list of operational challenges operators can expect in the coming year, along with some suggestions on how to manage them. While it’s not the most uplifting of countdowns, it does cover some important territory and may help you prioritize the steps you want to take to build your business in the months ahead. We summarized some of the key challenges here – along with some tech tools that can help you manage them. First, to manage labor costs, particularly if your state is in the roughly half of the country that is increasing its minimum wage in 2020, make the most of tech tools that can save you time and money. By integrating your POS with an accounting and scheduling platform, for example, you can analyze your labor and sales data to optimize scheduling and improve your forecasting capabilities. If you struggle with keeping your inventory accurate and your ingredient costs in line, consider inventory management software that can guide the process from start to finish – and offer tools such as smart ordering and receiving, which can help you maintain profit margins on menu items and pinpoint when vendor costs are higher than normal. Finally, if you want to offer delivery in an effort to meet consumer demand, make sure you’re making data-driven decisions when selecting a service model. Restaurant365 advises you use operations software to automatically calculate and track your delivery profits based on sales, cost of goods sold, and delivery expenses.
Want to keep tabs on what’s next in tech? One strategy is to follow what’s happening at Domino’s, which in recent years has solidified its position as a savvy tech company that just happens to make pizza. In August, Domino’s opened its Innovation Garage, a facility at its headquarters dedicated to developing and testing new tech. The company recently shared news about three new innovations to expect in the coming months. As Nation’s Restaurant News reports, Domino’s will be expanding and fine tuning its GPS tracking system for pizzas, allowing customers to see on a map where their pizza is at a given time and managers to more effectively route drivers to those customers. It will also be rolling out the third iteration of its virtual ordering assistant, Dom, using conversational AI to take phone orders. Finally, the company is releasing Nuro, an unmanned, golf cart-sized delivery robot that sends a notification to a customer upon arrival, then releases the order when the customer enters an assigned code. Nuro, which incorporates lessons Domino’s learned from its past tests of self-driving vehicles, will be used in downtown Houston initially.
If the restaurant tech landscape doesn’t quite working for your business yet, just wait five minutes and you’re likely to find technology that does. One possible example is the recent partnership of Waitbusters and Postmates. Waitbusters started out as a tech company aiming at eliminating wait times at restaurants but it is now evolving in an effort to work with restaurants that don’t want to hire delivery drivers and also don’t want to pay the high fees charged by many third-party delivery providers. It has integrated its Digital Diner software platform with Postmates and allows operators to turn on the Postmates delivery function when they need it and turn it off when they don’t. This helps eliminate the costs of using an entire third-party delivery platform while giving operators access to off-premise options they may need.
Long a trend setter in the delivery space, Domino’s is now going national with its use of e-bikes to boost delivery efficiency, according to a QSR Magazine report. The brand, which announced a partnership with e-bike company Rad Power Bikes recently, had been testing electric bikes in markets including Miami, New York and Houston and saw improvements in delivery and service as a result. As third-party aggregators vie for restaurant delivery customers, Domino’s has sustained its use of an in-house delivery team. While that can be a financially beneficial move for a large brand, the introduction of delivery via the Rad Power e-bikes, which have integrated motors that assist with pedaling up to speeds of 20 miles per hour, may enhance that efficiency further. Domino’s reports that there have been labor benefits from being able to hire candidates who don’t have a driver’s license but can use a bike, as well as team satisfaction benefits from workers who had been delivering via bike and can now get an extra boost when pedaling up hills with the help of a motor.
How well does your restaurant accommodate delivery? Amid the rise in demand for delivered food, many operators are rethinking their restaurant layouts and footprints — but what if such major changes aren’t an option? As Panera, Chipotle and others are discovering, shelving is one small move that is making a big difference in delivery efficiency, enabling drivers to quickly grab prepared orders and go. Fast Company reports that Eatsa is taking this concept a step further with its Spotlight Pickup System. It’s a small, modular, digital shelf that can connect with third-party delivery providers like Uber Eats. When an order is complete, the shelf lights up with a customer’s name and can sense when food has been placed on it or removed. It will even alert a manager if food sits on the shelf for too long. The shelves could be ideal for small spaces, since each shelf is self-contained and can be assembled in different numbers and configurations.
As delivery continues its rise (Statista forecasts an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent for the U.S. market) it’s becoming increasingly important for restaurants to be able to manage order streams from both inside and outside the operation. Your kitchen management system can help future-proof your business by displaying multiple streams of traffic, using touchscreen technology to help you communicate between the front and back of house, and quoting accurate waiting times for customers based on the bandwidth of your kitchen. If you’re in the market for a tech upgrade, you can find systems to accommodate your desire for customization: There are systems that can be adapted to the pacing of your operation (TouchBistro is a top-rated one), whether you have a flurry of small plates coming from your kitchen throughout the evening or entrées for a group of 20.