If there is one area of tech to focus on this year, you’ll be in a good spot by smoothing out the process your guests must go through when placing orders and making payment – and finding low-touch, low-interaction ways of doing so. According to a new report from Oracle about consumer expectations for restaurant dining, 73 percent of restaurant patrons would like to reduce their use of cash, 49 percent would like to minimize their human interaction, 46 percent want to settle their bill on a mobile app, and 71 percent wouldn’t mind if restaurants, at the time of online booking, communicated a limit to the amount of time guests could keep a reserved table. This is good news for operators struggling to keep labor. What aspects of your guest experience might be better managed by outsourcing them to tech this year?
At a time when every extra bit of profit is critical, it’s important for your customers to be ordering food from your restaurant app and, ideally, collecting their order from you – as opposed to calling a third-party delivery provider to bring it to them. If you’re trying to convert guests from third-party channels right now, focus on offering a good introductory deal that will entice people to order via your restaurant directly, then making it as easy as possible for them to stay with you as opposed to reverting back to the third-party app. That could mean placing a flyer in every third-party order bag that leaves your restaurant and including a coupon for a substantial discount off of a future restaurant-app order, as well as a QR code that the recipient can scan to get your app. From that point, you will have an entry point you can use to send subsequent offers they can redeem when they use your app and/or collect an order curbside. And while those offers may not be as substantial as the initial one, they can still provide a discount from what the customer would have to pay a third-party provider. You can also continue to use the data you collect from your app to make your offers increasingly customized. When you test the experience of ordering through your app and compare it to the ease of ordering via a third-party provider, where are the snags? Ironing them out should mean the difference between retaining the customer ordering via your app and having them return to the third-party app on subsequent orders.
At a time when restaurant operators can’t count on dine-in customers, off-premise sales have taken on elevated importance. This also means operators are trying to elevate the experience of ordering food off-premise so that it feels more like ordering from the restaurant’s dining room. Restaurant Business reports that a number of brands are updating their apps to improve the ordering experience with information that a server might otherwise provide to a guest onsite: Outback Steakhouse had added more detailed menu descriptions and photos, for example, and Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes has added pop-ups that recommend complementary dishes. Whether you have an app or would simply like to improve the experience of ordering on your website, think about the aspects of ordering (and dining) in your restaurant that are currently lost when a customer is off-premise. How might you bring the off-premise experience alive for them?
If you’ve ever ordered a pizza from Domino’s, you’ve gotten a glimpse into how a restaurant brand can harness technology to expedite ordering, upsell successfully and improve loyalty. But it’s one thing for a behemoth brand to accomplish this and quite another for a smaller, independent one. Slice, a tech platform for independent pizza restaurants, is looking to change that and its consumer app has attracted 16,000 independents so far. But according to The Spoon, which named Slice to its list of top-10 tech companies recently, Slice’s acquisition of the POS startup InStore is what’s really allowing it to help indie restaurants improve their customer experience. It’s enabling smaller pizza restaurants to offer the kind of loyalty programs and integrated marketing programs that make ordering from a small, one-store pizzeria as seamless as it is at Domino’s.
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.