Despite recent news about bans on cash-free (i.e. app- or card-based) payment requirements at restaurants in New York and other states, there is plenty of momentum pushing restaurants toward even more seamless, tech-based payment systems. Software companies like PopID, for example, are providing artificial intelligence-enabled facial-recognition platforms that can not only process payment rapidly but also recognize a customer – then quickly pull up previous orders, which are often repeated at quick-service restaurants. Payments Journal reports that the result at CaliBurger, a brand using the technology, has been shorter lines and compressed ordering times.
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.
Mobile loyalty apps will have a significant impact on the industry this year. That was the sentiment of 31 percent of respondents to a recent TD Bank survey of 254 owners, operators and executives of independent and franchised multi-unit restaurants. A separate survey from TrendSource found that diners are more interested in using a restaurant’s app for delivery and pick-up than a third-party app. Part of what makes restaurant-branded mobile apps an easy win for restaurants is that whether you operate a food truck, pop-up restaurant or fine-dining restaurant, there is mobile app functionality that can ease ordering and payment, deliver customized promotions and build loyalty – and at accessible price points.
A recent Technomic report, “Harnessing Technology to Drive Off-Premise Sales,” found that when consumers are ordering restaurant food, 60 percent of the time they are ordering it for off-premise consumption – whether at their home, office, or other location convenient to them. However, there still isn’t a smooth connection between what consumers want and what restaurants currently provide, particularly when it comes to technology. While there are certainly outliers – Taco Bell, for one, is tapping into artificial intelligence to deliver a more personalized in-app ordering experience – Technomic’s report found that 56 percent of consumers want to be able to order delivery from a restaurant’s website, but only 45 percent of operators offer the option. Similarly, 43 percent of those who order delivery do so via a restaurant’s app, but only 18 percent of operators offer that option. More broadly, consumers expressed an interest in having more ordering flexibility via technology than they currently have: For example, 31 percent of consumers said they would like to be able to place a food order via a smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo, but only 12 percent of operators make that possible. As you consider new technology – or how to adapt your restaurant service model for off-premise sales – are you aware of how your guests want to connect with you and how you can best facilitate those connections?
If you’re looking to steer your restaurant away from third-party delivery this year – whether due to the expense, customer data ownership, development of your in-house technology or some combination of the above, you will need to find a way to bring customers to you online while third-party delivery companies try to compete for their business. Noah Glass, founder and CEO of the mobile and online food ordering platform Olo, said restaurants need to take steps to protect their territory amid the rise of delivery companies and ghost kitchens. He told Forbes that one of the simplest steps restaurant operators can take to protect themselves and ensure customers find them via the restaurant’s app and website is to use a non-compete agreement that prevents third-party vendors from bidding on certain brand-related keywords used in online searches. Such agreements can prevent vendors from redirecting online traffic that would otherwise go to your restaurant.
Any technology you introduce to make the process of ordering and managing guest inquiries is only good if it delivers the experience your guests want from you. But how should your restaurant evolve when one guest wants to order via a smartphone without any human interaction and another with a serious food allergy takes comfort in speaking with a human when placing an order? Restaurant tech is available to create the sort of VIP experience you want to provide, no matter your guest preferences. Consider Chipotle, which has been generating positive news in recent months for its automated digital ordering experience. As Forbes reports, SNQ3 Restaurant Solutions provides Chipotle’s voice-ordering system, which automates online, app and phone orders and allows customers to choose the kind of interaction they prefer. In response, the system can rapidly process reorders, greet a returning customer by name, and, if a customer has questions or concerns that the voice bot can’t accommodate, a live agent is there to help as back-up.
Gift cards: they’re among the few gifts that are never returned. And they’re a win for restaurants. According to data from Givex.com, 65 percent of those who receive gift cards tend to spend about 38 percent more than the face value of their gift card. If your guests are interested in both purchasing gift cards and making payments via mobile, consider raising the bar for next year by providing digital stored-value cards that can be loaded onto a mobile app. Your guests won’t have extra cards cluttering their wallets and as Restaurant Technology News reports, digital cards hold a lot of appeal for guests who want the option of making fast, seamless payments.
Do you feel social media posting pressure? The need to post regularly to stay relevant can cause restaurant operators to focus too much on social media networks and neglect their website, which is the one place where you have full control over content (and is therefore where your online focus should be). Does your restaurant’s website tick all of the boxes when it comes to attracting visitors and giving them what they need? The Digital Restaurant suggests all restaurant websites have five features: First, you (likely) need a mobile-friendly design with mobile analytics, since most people are probably finding you with a mobile device. Just check Google Analytics first to confirm that your site is getting a lot of traffic from mobile devices before you invest in new design. Make sure your restaurant’s basic information is updated and complete. It should include your address and directions, operating hours, menu and nutritional information, phone number and email address/contact form. Next, ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads pages quickly and has a design that complements the design of your physical restaurant. Sites like https://www.usertesting.com/ can provide objective feedback about the experience of navigating your website. Four, provide some testimonials and social proof that other guests have had great experiences with you. That means integrating links to your social media networks and showing positive reviews from sites like Yelp. Finally, email continues to be the way to keep your guest connections strong, so provide links to subscribe to your email list – via a pop-up invitation and in relevant places on your site. Of course, once you have those basics down, you can continue to fine-tune your site with engaging photos, location-based personalization, online ordering and reservations, search engine optimization, and content marketing such as recipes, videos, articles or other content about your food, staff, values or other topics designed to help guests connect with your brand.
Want to keep tabs on what’s next in tech? One strategy is to follow what’s happening at Domino’s, which in recent years has solidified its position as a savvy tech company that just happens to make pizza. In August, Domino’s opened its Innovation Garage, a facility at its headquarters dedicated to developing and testing new tech. The company recently shared news about three new innovations to expect in the coming months. As Nation’s Restaurant News reports, Domino’s will be expanding and fine tuning its GPS tracking system for pizzas, allowing customers to see on a map where their pizza is at a given time and managers to more effectively route drivers to those customers. It will also be rolling out the third iteration of its virtual ordering assistant, Dom, using conversational AI to take phone orders. Finally, the company is releasing Nuro, an unmanned, golf cart-sized delivery robot that sends a notification to a customer upon arrival, then releases the order when the customer enters an assigned code. Nuro, which incorporates lessons Domino’s learned from its past tests of self-driving vehicles, will be used in downtown Houston initially.
If the restaurant tech landscape doesn’t quite working for your business yet, just wait five minutes and you’re likely to find technology that does. One possible example is the recent partnership of Waitbusters and Postmates. Waitbusters started out as a tech company aiming at eliminating wait times at restaurants but it is now evolving in an effort to work with restaurants that don’t want to hire delivery drivers and also don’t want to pay the high fees charged by many third-party delivery providers. It has integrated its Digital Diner software platform with Postmates and allows operators to turn on the Postmates delivery function when they need it and turn it off when they don’t. This helps eliminate the costs of using an entire third-party delivery platform while giving operators access to off-premise options they may need.