Using artificial intelligence in your restaurant isn’t necessarily about investing in a robotic chef to flip burgers. Increasingly, it can help restaurants manage the nuances of customer data – something that can benefit any restaurant. A recent report from Nation’s Restaurant News described how the brand El Pollo Loco is using an A.I. product called Merlin to help boost the capabilities of its loyalty program. By using A.I. to sift through reams of customer data, Merlin can help the brand get more strategic with the offers they make to customers – for example, suggesting items past customers are likely to order, but also not offering deals or discounts where it’s not as necessary to retaining the customer’s loyalty.
Preparing food in restaurants has become a juggling act this year – with people behind the scenes regularly throwing new balls into the air. According to a Datassential report, 92 percent of restaurant traffic is now off-premise. Drive-thru orders represent the largest growth category, followed by 23 percent order-ahead, 21 percent delivery and 18 percent to-go. A seemingly quiet kitchen could actually be as busy as a restaurant with a line of customers out the front door. This year, more restaurants will be adopting tools that allow them to monitor the various ways in which orders are coming to them – and adapt more easily to their ebb and flow. A new report on restaurant technology trends to watch in 2021 says smart scheduling and booking technology, as well as automated kitchen operations technology, can help ensure food is ready when customers want it.
We’re swimming in a growing pool of consumer data – and increasingly, that data will help you understand your customers better, offer them new conveniences and predict what menu items and promotions they will love. But consumer protections around their data are growing too, requiring people to “opt in” to what you offer (and simultaneously reminding them that you are tracking their preferences). When customers use your technology, whether it’s to place an order or join your loyalty program, be clear about how you plan to use their data and what the benefit is for them. Will it make their ordering process lightning-fast? Enable you to bring a packaged order outside as soon as the customer approaches your driveway? Put your intentions in plain English as much as possible and mention that they can opt out (and help them understand why they wouldn’t want to).
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.
The technology you’re adopting now to bring efficiencies to your business and minimize contact may have the unintended effect of distancing your guests from your staff – and the service they have come to expect from your brand. As you introduce technology into your business, make sure that it includes features that somehow replicate (and ideally, enhance) your service. When your return customers order food from you online or via your app, are they prompted with information on their past orders to help streamline the processing of their current order? Whenever they are in the vicinity of your restaurant, could you use predictive analytics to send them a promotion they are likely to crave? Using artificial intelligence can help you demonstrate that you know a guest well – and fill any empathy gaps that exist when a guest has less human contact with your brand.
The pandemic has made us all the more reliant on data from a growing number of sources – and the restaurant brands using their own data most adeptly (and pulling from useful external data sources too) have been the ones most able to steer their way through the challenges of the past year. In its recent list of top-five predictions for restaurant tech in the year ahead, Restaurant Technology News said operators will need to be ready to take advantage of the “tidal wave of data” resulting from their interactions with consumers. So how could this look in practice? If you have a large customer base of sports fans, the report says, you could be combining your first-party transaction data with player stats, weather changes and your inventory to predict sales on game days. And that model adjusts depending on the demographics you’re serving: Whoever your ideal customer is, there are multiple sources of data that can predict how that person will make decisions. Are you collecting data from sources that can help you make the best decisions in the year ahead?
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.
Times of challenge spark new ideas and we’re about to see an innovation boom in the restaurant industry – particularly when it comes to ghost kitchens. Technology companies, having assessed how the pandemic has forced restaurants to transform their sales models, streamline delivery and curbside pick-up, address labor challenges and take additional precautions to protect safety, are finding opportunities to help restaurants whittle down their operations so they can excel in those areas. Specifically, look for more opportunities for turnkey restaurant-in-a-box solutions that give operators the hardware, software and management technology to set up a mobile shop in a parking lot (and in the process, decrease the cost and risk of starting a business). Restaurant Technology News reports that companies like Reef Technology are focusing on “proximity-as-a-service” platforms for organizations ranging from restaurants to retailers to even healthcare testing centers. While such solutions lower the barriers to entry for people with little experience, they can also help experienced operators dip their toe in the water with ghost kitchens to determine their ideal sales model going forward.
As we wind down the year (and one for the history books at that), take a moment to review where you are as a business – and what changes need to happen for it to keep pace with the rapidly changing times. As the Spoon reported recently, digital sales will comprise 54 percent of all quick-service and limited-service restaurant sales by 2025, according to research from Incisiv. That’s a 70 percent leap from where we were before the pandemic. If your restaurant has been delaying the adoption of tech – particularly to help streamline guest ordering and fulfillment – it’s no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have feature that will help your restaurant survive. Talk to Team Four about how you can take small steps to adopt technology to bring more efficiencies to order management in 2021.
Food subscriptions are on the rise for everything from coffee to donuts to ice cream. More than one-third of Americans say they will increase the number of subscription services they use – and more restaurant operators are embracing them as an additional income stream that can help sustain sales during an uncertain time. Now technology has come to market that can help operators create and manage their own subscription programs. Paytronix, for one, is now offering a platform that includes customer targeting to help boost signups, as well as tracking recurring payments, automating messaging for reminders and managing rewards to help build loyalty.