The pandemic has pushed restaurant technology several years ahead of where it would be otherwise – and our increased ordering of takeout in the past year has made us more comfortable ordering food on our phones. Could allowing guests to order by phone work for you on-premise as well as off? At a time when labor is scarce, it may be worth considering. During a recent episode of the restaurant webcast The Barron Report, the founders of Branded Strategic Hospitality spoke about how they have invested in their entire tech stack, to include the app Bbot, which enables QR code scanning for ordering from the restaurant. If you have a tech-savvy guests who are just as happy to read a menu on their phone as on a piece of paper, you might try experimenting with QR codes for not only menu review but also ordering.
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.
Drive-through restaurants have done well during the pandemic. Restaurant Dive reports that the share of trips on Waze to businesses with drive-through options jumped 25 percent between the beginning and end of 2020. It’s not difficult to see why: Drive-through restaurants’ use of smart, artificial intelligence-driven menus allows them to adjust options depending on the weather and to upsell customers with tempting options based on their past orders. Some are now adopting technology that enables guests to order directly from their car while in line, minimizing wait times. But these solutions are not necessarily just in the purview of drive-throughs. When you look at your business and how you get food to guests, where are your bottlenecks? Could you enable processes in your operation that would help you attract traffic from potential guests on a nearby highway, call up guests’ past orders and suggest additions they’re likely to crave, or speed up your wait times by allowing a person to order from you easily before they even arrive?
COVID-19 has been especially tough on independent restaurants, with recent research from Paytronix indicating that independents have lost 10 percent of their customers since the pandemic began. But the good news is that according to the research, which surveyed 2,130 independent restaurant customers, the digital tools independent restaurants offer to manage orders, payments and customer preferences can help build business back up in a big way – and seemingly without requiring sweeping changes to the menu or other aspects of the business. Specifically, it found that consumers who order online spend 50 percent more than those who order in person. Further, half of all customers of independent sit-down restaurants said they would spend more if the restaurant offered a loyalty program. Offering online ordering and a loyalty program are not major adjustments for a restaurant to make – but they could generate a lot of revenue. How easy do you make it for customers to order online from you? What steps could you take to make it easier and faster to order from you on any device? (Consider the businesses that deliver your most user-friendly online ordering experiences, from Amazon to Domino’s to small, independent businesses.) What incentives do you offer to get customers to return? If you have an existing loyalty program that rewards customers for repeat visits, could you take it a step further by personalizing it according to the preferences they have expressed in past orders?
Name a restaurant challenge and there is likely technology in existence or in development that can address it in some way. One bright side to the pandemic has been the urgency with which these developments are coming to market to keep restaurants in business – either directly or indirectly. One recent example is a site called NotGrubhub.org, which was launched by a food-tech entrepreneur earlier this year. The Los Angeles Times reports that the map-based website points customers to restaurants that take food orders directly. It was designed to bypass third-party food delivery apps that can charge up to 20 percent in commissions or marketing fees from restaurants in Los Angeles – and in effect, carve into restaurants’ already-slim margins. Even if such a service isn’t available where you are, the site is helpful in building consumer awareness about where their money is going, as well as highlighting restaurants’ need for customers to come directly to them when possible.
At a time when operators may feel removed from the customers they serve, technology is what can create the personal experiences that help customers feel appreciated (and instill loyalty). According to Technomic’s 2020 Foodservice Technology Consumer Trend Report, 36 percent of consumers say they expect a restaurant app to be able to save their payment information and 39 percent expect the app to save their previous orders and present their preferred menu items. While it makes for a speedy, smooth ordering and checkout process, it’s not only helpful to consumers; it also feeds your knowledge about your customer and lets you know what they like and when they like it – so when you’re marketing to them, you have a clear sense of exactly what will entice them to return and when.
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.
Last year at this time, having an on-trend menu or holiday promotions may have been priorities for you. Fast-forward a year and restaurant hospitality – and the ethics surrounding it – looks much different. One recent Washington Post article mentioned how diners, in general, are going through a more rigorous decision-making process when it comes to determining if and where they will dine out. Criteria that would have seemed outlandish just a year ago – like a restaurant’s COVID-19 protocols, table-distancing measures, neighbourhood and amount of foot traffic – now speak volumes to consumers about a restaurant’s potential risks (and therefore, the quality of their hospitality). If local restrictions fluctuate in the coming months, how will you consistently communicate safety to your guests and off-premise customers? Continue to promote – via your website, social media and in-store signage – that you are committed to protecting the safety of both your staff and your guests. If guests want to access detailed information about how you’re handling COVID-19, provide details on your website. Post your employee sick leave policy, specific cleaning protocols and schedule – yes, recent research indicates that more consumers want to know these details – and what you are doing to protect the safety of off-premise meals as well. Much like restaurants that have developed a loyal following of customers who have food allergies, restaurants that visibly protect guest safety – not just for show but as a deeply felt value – stand to earn guest loyalty too.
COVID-19 has forced operators to scale down their dining room business while scaling up their capacity for off-premise orders. But preparing for an increase in online orders isn’t as simple as plugging your existing menu into your website. Your online menu needs to exude the same professionalism as the experience of sitting in your dining room. But instead of relying on your décor and friendly servers, your online menu alone must make people feel comfortable that they are in good hands. Restaurant Den suggests operators keep several tips in mind when revising their online menu, including scaling down choices, clarifying ingredients (and directing those with food allergies to more information on their website), and checking the spelling of each item.