Machine learning was singled out by Modern Restaurant Management recently as one of the top technologies that will differentiate restaurant brands as we emerge from the pandemic. It cited research from Hospitality Technology that found that 42 percent of guests will choose takeout from a restaurant if they receive offers tied to their past orders. These sort of precision analytics can fine-tune operations in the back of the house too – helping you monitor the supply chain to more accurately forecast food costs and order with less waste. How can you enhance the precision with which you order – and deliver to customers – just what they crave?
By 2021, almost 50 million people will be using food delivery apps. It’s a good time to understand how people are using your mobile app if you have one. Placing an order may be only one part of it. According to The Rail, while 32 percent of restaurant mobile app users are using them to order food, even more – 42 percent – are looking for information on coupons or other deals. Close behind are those looking up your restaurant’s menu (38 percent) or searching for local food options (37 percent). These figures may change how you go about attracting people to your app – or in how you prioritize updating the information on it. Consider push notifications when you’re running promotions to encourage customers to begin earning rewards. Understand – and continue to ask customers to confirm – which rewards appeal most to them. As for your menu and local profile, make sure your information and menu are up to date on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
At a time when restaurant delivery has become critical for so many restaurants (even pre-COVID-19, off-premise orders were accounting for nearly 60 percent of foodservice occasions, according to the National Restaurant Association), new technologies that offer operators more control and monitoring of the delivery process are on the rise. They may help you zero in on the areas that need improvement and can help set you apart among competitors. Food delivery analytics software like ActiveDeliver, for example, pulls together onto a single dashboard data such as sales metrics that extract total sales for in-store, drive-thru and delivery customers, delivery metrics that illustrate trends in driver wait and travel times, customer analytics that track sales by new and existing customers and whether customer satisfaction is driven by specific menu items or delivery times, and a breakdown of food delivery fees and who is paying them. Whether you use technology designed to monitor your delivery or not, using your POS data to understand (and improve upon) the lifecycle of the delivery process will become increasingly important as you accommodate more off-premise sales right now.
If you can customize and personalize your menu for guests, you earn loyal guests, which are what operators need right now. Technology is making it easier for operators to give guests the choices they want on demand. Case in point: Taco Bell recently unveiled a feature called Veggie Mode on its self-order kiosks. It will allow users to push a button and immediately change the options on their screen to vegetarian ones. Ostensibly, it’s a feature that could be extended to eliminate any food to which a guest has an intolerance or dislike. Through your website, app and text/email promotions, are you using your available technology to help guests quickly see the options best suited to their tastes?
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