While technology had been making sweeping changes to the restaurant industry before the pandemic, expect it to play a transformative role as we emerge from it. Many of the systems and tools that had been nice-to-haves a couple of months ago could now provide the limited physical contact needed to keep your employees and guests safe – and your business running. This doesn’t mean investing in new bells and whistles but it does mean finding ways to maximize the technology you currently have and any additional tools that can be used for free. As the National Restaurant Association’s new report Covid-19 Reporting Guidance advises, update your website and use basic text messages to communicate with guests and staff. Use your email list and social media to provide up-to-date information about your current hours, menu changes, reservations and other information that may be helpful, such as approximate wait times. Of course, contactless payment systems, automated ordering functionality and mobile ordering apps can all help too. Be in touch with your POS system provider to ensure you are fully using all of your system’s functionality and any additional features or support your provider is offering right now. Bo Peabody, a tech entrepreneur who helped create the reopening guidelines for Georgia restaurants, told the Spoon that POS companies might soon take such actions as giving restaurants the ability to add a QR code to their check – a means for a guest to pay for a meal with a quick, contactless scan of their phone. (Paytronix and Sevenrooms recently announced new contactless order and payment capabilities, and the restaurant tech company Presto is offering free contactless dining kits for restaurants while supplies last. The company says the kits can be set up in an hour – and without any contracts or costs.)
If you’re looking for technology help as you reopen, there are deals to be had on everything from third-party delivery to tech platforms as companies look to stand out in the market and rebuild business themselves. One case in point is OpenTable. Even if you haven’t taken reservations before, you may be considering taking them while social distancing requirements call for fewer guests in your restaurant at one time and for more vigilant management of traffic at your building’s entrance. OpenTable just announced its Open Door program, a three-tiered, subscription-based reservations program that provides services at a discount for the remainder of 2020. The program allows operators to access the OpenTable system without subscription fees through the end of the year. Further, there are no cover fees through September 20 and up to 50 percent discounts on cover fees for the fourth quarter of the year. Learn more at https://restaurant.opentable.com/opendoorprogram-2/
Improving your website is another one of those tasks that’s difficult to take on in the midst of the daily rush. Now that business is slower – and technology is all the more important in keeping us connected and informed – take a closer look at your site and identify some areas to improve. First, don’t make people dig for your contact information, address, hours, and your current menu – the information should be easy for people to find with minimal clicks. Then, make it clear how they can order from you. If you deliver (particularly with in-house staff) post a prominent button at the top of your homepage to drive people to that function. Other links at the top of your homepage should connect people to your story/background, rewards program and any merchandise you offer. Of course, your site should be mobile-friendly too so all of this information is easily accessed on a mobile phone. If you’d like to see some websites that work, check out the examples on this page.
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.
As technology has become a bigger part of people’s lives – and a growing part of the restaurant industry in recent years – there has been much discussion and warning about its potential to replace humans or to stifle human connection. But for so many people right now, technology is precisely what is making it possible for people to remain connected to family, friends and colleagues despite the physical isolation we have had to adopt. People are gathering for virtual happy hours and dinner parties – occasions that we may not have considered before. As we emerge from the pandemic, are you looking at your technology any differently? Will this change how we develop technology for restaurants and consumers alike? How will you want to use it to help protect you in the future – and to better connect you with the people you serve?
Consumers don’t consider technology to be an eliminator of jobs but rather a means of improving convenience – and restaurants are investing in more of such customer-facing technology solutions this year. These were key tech-related takeaways from the National Restaurant Association’s latest state-of-the-industry report. When it comes to customer-facing tech, kiosks and other self-service technology still pay dividends. Their biggest benefit may be speed – by visibly reducing congestion and automating orders, they expedite the order process and shorten lines – but this technology is also winning consumers over for its ability to customize. The proof is in the payment: The convenience that kiosks provide can lead guests to spend 15 to 20 percent more per order, according to Pymts.com. #restauranttech
What if running a profitable restaurant became less about analyzing databases and spreadsheets and more about following AI-generated directions? That’s increasingly becoming a reality for some restaurants. In a recent roundup from Modern Restaurant Management about major disruptions to expect in the coming decade, AI applications were among the major changes industry insiders expect. David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for Capriotti’s, sees increasing potential for video to work hand-in-hand with AI – using facial recognition to identify guests and connect them with loyalty programs, reducing theft by video monitoring, and improving employee performance by monitoring their actions and providing on-the-spot upselling and service advice. #restauranttech
At the speed technology is evolving, data breaches are becoming increasingly common – and the costs can cripple a business: Transaction Resources estimates that the average small business pays $36,000 to $50,000 for a single data breach. While the various points of connection within your restaurant – from your POS to the sensors monitoring the functioning of your appliances – can improve your efficiency, they may also make your business more vulnerable to cyber threats. To get a handle on your restaurant’s risks, consider using the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework for Critical Infrastructure. Restaurant365 reports that many restaurants are using the framework, which takes you through a five-step process to identify, protect, detect, respond and recover from an incident.
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?
If you’re looking to steer your restaurant away from third-party delivery this year – whether due to the expense, customer data ownership, development of your in-house technology or some combination of the above, you will need to find a way to bring customers to you online while third-party delivery companies try to compete for their business. Noah Glass, founder and CEO of the mobile and online food ordering platform Olo, said restaurants need to take steps to protect their territory amid the rise of delivery companies and ghost kitchens. He told Forbes that one of the simplest steps restaurant operators can take to protect themselves and ensure customers find them via the restaurant’s app and website is to use a non-compete agreement that prevents third-party vendors from bidding on certain brand-related keywords used in online searches. Such agreements can prevent vendors from redirecting online traffic that would otherwise go to your restaurant.