Consumer customization isn’t going away. In fact, looking beyond your menu to give your customers even more options to customize their experience may help you gain a competitive advantage. Tech is enabling those changes. According to Dana Macke, the director of trends for the Americas at Mintel, current efforts to expedite delivery are going to evolve into efforts to offer greater flexibility. That means that going forward, restaurants will be able to give customers greater control over when their delivery order arrives, for example. We can also expect greater use of predictive technologies to help restaurants ensure their guests’ orders are tailored to their schedule and needs. Can you enhance the customization of your customers’ ordering experience?
As restaurants adjust their service models and real estate footprints to better accommodate off-premise orders for the long haul, they are also gaining new options to maintain the quality of their food in transit. A recent trend report from Nation’s Restaurant News mentions the Swedish company Dometic, which has launched a temperature-controlled delivery box designed to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Innovations like this could give restaurant operators more freedom to offer popular menu items that lose quality quickly when wrapped in traditional takeout packaging (and may have been removed from off-premise menus as a result).
The end of the year is a time restaurant operators can count on for strong performance – with December typically the most profitable month of the year. But Black Box data from December points to sales growth of just 4.1 percent, compared to 8.4 percent in November. It marked the weakest month for the industry since the 2.7 percent growth reported in March 2021. In light of those results, a recent Restaurant Business report suggested guests may be questioning restaurants’ value amid steeply climbing costs. It’s no wonder – amid ingredient and labor shortages, along with escalating costs, something has to give. But all the same, operators can only turn those figures around if they can demonstrate the value of choosing a restaurant meal over one prepared at home. Staffing shortages can cause service to take a hit, but you may be able to help compensate for this with improved speed of preparation: Simplify your menu with speed-scratch ingredients or other elements ready to be added to a number of dishes. Remove friction from the process guests must go through when searching for you online and placing an order. That means monitoring your restaurant online to ensure information about your menu, hours and contact information is up to date on review sites, search engines and social media, as well as testing your online ordering functionality to remove glitches and ensure repeat guests are recognized in your system. Speaking of loyal guests, double down on your loyalty program and guest personalization, which will make it feel more worthwhile for guests to support your business (either in your dining room or through order collection), as opposed to having a third-party vendor drop off their delivery order. Finally, aim to appeal to guests’ own values by supporting local suppliers and sharing their business names with guests – an expensive meal feels more worthwhile to a guest when they know it supports their broader community.
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.
At a time when restaurants may find it difficult to justify the fees that come along with third-party delivery, or risk having food tampered with or delayed in arriving, bringing delivery in-house may sound like a tempting option. The evolution of restaurant technology is helping to make that possible for more restaurants. Brands including Portillo’s and P.F. Chang’s adopted the restaurant delivery management platform CartWheel, for example, to help make the transition to offering in-house delivery for certain orders. The shift to the technology has also helped the brands create (or expand) new tip-generating roles for team members.
The evolution of restaurant technology in the past 18 months hasn’t been just about the streamlining of the ordering and payment of food, but also about the development of food to meet the moment. (And the moment, for so many restaurants, seems to be about perfecting the off-premise dining experience.) Simplot, for one, has launched a new kind of French fry that doesn’t get soggy and limp during delivery and is microwave-reheatable. Now is prime time to assess your menu to ensure everything travels and reheats well – and to keep an eye on up-and-coming additions in food products and packaging. They could change the game for your takeout and delivery menu by having it more closely reflect the in-dining room eating experience.
If your restaurant is located within close reach of an airport or sports stadium, look for potential opportunities to branch out into new new business streams via third-party delivery companies. (And these options aren’t about delivery but about bringing extra convenience to people in places where they really need it.) Uber Eats is offering order-ahead pickup options at airports for participating restaurant vendors, allowing customers to order ahead via their app, then pick up a favorite item en route to a connecting flight. Meanwhile, Grub Hub now offers fans at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. the ability to scan a QR code on the back of their seat and place a pickup order for food from stadium vendors – allowing people to avoid long stadium lines.
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?
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.
Independent restaurants have been in an especially tough position throughout the pandemic, lacking much of the resources and scale of a multi-business organization while also being hardest hit by the commission fees of third-party delivery companies. But as a result, independents are emerging as a segment of the restaurant industry that is ripe for innovation. Business at BentoBox, which helps restaurants build more robust, ecommerce-ready websites, has been booming since the pandemic started. It focuses on helping restaurants harness their customer data – and it has nearly doubled its client list in recent months. Grubhub, in addition, just launched a new web offering aimed at independent restaurants that includes a branded website, as well as the ability to create loyalty programs and promotions, process and manage orders, and view customer names, email addresses and past orders. The company says it is waiving its one-time setup fee for a year and will charge restaurants a $49 hosting fee per month, per location. Then there’s the commission fee if the restaurant opts to use Grubhub for last-mile delivery. Still, it may make sense for restaurants looking for a quick means of updating technology and offering delivery without sacrificing access to data.