Does the technology you use help minimize the number of steps required for a customer to place an order? Off-premise dining is here to stay and major chains are focusing on perfecting the off-premise experience right now. That involves integrating new digital tools to make ordering easier and faster. Panera, for one, has a new integration with Google’s Search, Maps and Assistant apps that allows people to order food for pickup and delivery directly from Google. Other large chains are likely to follow – and while the investment may not be as feasible for smaller brands, it’s still important for the tech you use to bring efficiency to the process of ordering and connecting people with your food – whether that involves minimizing the searching, scrolling and number of clicks required for people to place an order online, or streamlining your pickup and delivery processes.
Is there an area where your restaurant can give a little bit in order to demonstrate customer benefits in the long run? According to this Bloomberg report for the Washington Post, Chipotle had offered free delivery for much of the second quarter to entice customers. Now it is beginning to charge for that service, but the company has found that customers who used Chipotle’s app for free delivery are now going on to use the app to place orders for pickup – especially when they are reminded that they can do this for free and for a typically shorter wait time. Chipotle is gaining new converts to pickup – as well as more customer data – all for charging more for delivery and communicating well through its app.
When Boston-area Kowloon Restaurant had to adapt its 1,200-seat restaurant to new operating requirements for COVID-19, it got creative – with technology and with the experience it decided to offer guests. It adopted a new online payment system that allows people to start a drinks tab, view menus, order food, pay, tip and even ask the restaurant to wrap leftovers. It also converted its large parking lot into a drive-in movie theater, which gives guests an old-school, carhop-style experience while minimizing contact with staff. How can tech help you change the experience you’re able to offer guests right now?
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?
For years, geofencing technology has been helping restaurant operators target promotions to customers who are within a set radius of the restaurant at a given time. Now operators are adapting their use of the technology to improve their curb-side pickup business. Panera, for one, extended its wi-fi radius and added geofencing to help streamline the process of getting orders to customers waiting outside. For a customer who opts in to the use of the technology, the restaurant receives an alert when the person arrives to pick up their order, helping to keep curbside traffic moving.
Your restaurant has no doubt been making adjustments to its menu – both in terms of dishes and the physical list you present to customers. Have you thought about moving your menu to phones and mobile devices? A report from The Spoon predicts the shift toward digital ordering will make this inevitable. The approach has its benefits, beyond the germ-related. Customization is a critical one. Consider a guest who wants to know the origins of the fresh produce on your menu, access reviews prior to ordering, or even request special portion sizes or ingredients. Digital hand-held menus can build in that functionality, all while allowing you the flexibility to make prompt changes to pricing, ingredients and limited-time offers.
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.)
Even as we emerge from the pandemic and some aspects of our regular routines return to normal, curbside pickup is likely going to be around for a while. Chances are your existing technology didn’t anticipate this, so how are you managing to streamline curbside pickups? Some operators are taking the low-tech step of having customers hold up a sign in their car windows with their order number. Others are finding workarounds like using a burner phone in the short term – customers can call the number when they arrive and give their name and car make/model to the person bringing out the order. Some tech-driven, free services can help too: OneDine allows guests to drive up to a restaurant, scan a QR code from a sign, which launches a web page where the customer can order, pay and have food delivered to their car. Tock To Go offers in-app texting between customers and restaurants to help streamline pickups. What approaches are working for you?
Fine dining restaurants that focus on dine-in business, with takeout and delivery coming in at a distant second, have had the extra challenge of finding a way to serve customers in recent weeks as restaurants around the country have been forced to close their dining rooms. However, technology is helping them make the switch – and to do it quickly. Last week, Paytronix rolled out rapid-launch order and delivery system that helps restaurants to get the service up and running within a few days. The cloud-based system allows self-service menu management that enables operators to make menu changes quickly. Customers can also use their own delivery drivers or connect to Paytronix’s DoorDash partnership.
How seamless is the smartphone ordering experience you offer customers? Between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of consumers who ordered food via smartphone or mobile app more than tripled, according to a report from Grit Daily, and research from Business Insider Intelligence predicts mobile orders will comprise 11 percent of all quick-service sales this year. Enabling voice ordering – which is on the rise in other areas of ecommerce – may help to set your business apart. A presentation from Mastercard at the National Restaurant Association show last year reported that of the 74 million Americans who use smart speakers every month, 62 percent of them have used voice ordering to purchase retail items but less than 8 percent have purchased food and beverage. Considering the room for growth, voice ordering is likely to be among the next improvements mobile apps offer to make ordering food as easy as asking Alexa to play your favorite song.