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.
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?
By 2021, almost 50 million people will be using food delivery apps. It’s a good time to understand how people are using your mobile app if you have one. Placing an order may be only one part of it. According to The Rail, while 32 percent of restaurant mobile app users are using them to order food, even more – 42 percent – are looking for information on coupons or other deals. Close behind are those looking up your restaurant’s menu (38 percent) or searching for local food options (37 percent). These figures may change how you go about attracting people to your app – or in how you prioritize updating the information on it. Consider push notifications when you’re running promotions to encourage customers to begin earning rewards. Understand – and continue to ask customers to confirm – which rewards appeal most to them. As for your menu and local profile, make sure your information and menu are up to date on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
At a time when restaurant delivery has become critical for so many restaurants (even pre-COVID-19, off-premise orders were accounting for nearly 60 percent of foodservice occasions, according to the National Restaurant Association), new technologies that offer operators more control and monitoring of the delivery process are on the rise. They may help you zero in on the areas that need improvement and can help set you apart among competitors. Food delivery analytics software like ActiveDeliver, for example, pulls together onto a single dashboard data such as sales metrics that extract total sales for in-store, drive-thru and delivery customers, delivery metrics that illustrate trends in driver wait and travel times, customer analytics that track sales by new and existing customers and whether customer satisfaction is driven by specific menu items or delivery times, and a breakdown of food delivery fees and who is paying them. Whether you use technology designed to monitor your delivery or not, using your POS data to understand (and improve upon) the lifecycle of the delivery process will become increasingly important as you accommodate more off-premise sales right now.
If you can customize and personalize your menu for guests, you earn loyal guests, which are what operators need right now. Technology is making it easier for operators to give guests the choices they want on demand. Case in point: Taco Bell recently unveiled a feature called Veggie Mode on its self-order kiosks. It will allow users to push a button and immediately change the options on their screen to vegetarian ones. Ostensibly, it’s a feature that could be extended to eliminate any food to which a guest has an intolerance or dislike. Through your website, app and text/email promotions, are you using your available technology to help guests quickly see the options best suited to their tastes?
In March, an Eater report about the post-quarantine reopening of restaurants in China provided a glimpse at the social distancing requirements and health checks that it predicted would become the norm for restaurants everywhere. Three months later, as a second wave of virus infections is hitting China, the region is again modeling the situation restaurants in other countries may be facing in the near future. Even as restaurants reopen in the U.S., there is a nagging question about if, and when, another lockdown may be needed. Restaurant technology companies are stepping up to provide solutions to help operators not just manage new requirements but navigate an uncertain future. Food & Wine reports that companies including Resy, SevenRooms, Tock and OpenTable are offering tools to help operators reconfigure floorplans and communicate with guests about new procedures. Resy disables its reservations feature once a restaurant has reached capacity, while SevenRooms suggests delivery or takeout once a restaurant is full. In addition to helping operators manage guest traffic, such technology may provide the added benefit of helping communities contain the spread of the virus: By tracking guests’ visits to the restaurant, they can also alert them promptly if and when a second wave of the virus occurs.
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.
In case it wasn’t already clear pre-pandemic, off-premise dining isn’t going anywhere. Since third-party ordering poses ample challenges for operators it’s important to entice customers to order directly from you. Have you thought about how to encourage them to do that in the coming months? You might try incentives like filling every takeout order with a coupon good for a discount off their first direct online order from you, or offering some extra value for signing up for your in-house app (if you want to build your own ordering app, here is one option that may help https://bit.ly/36maBNz). Beyond that, make it as easy as possible for customers to order from you directly. Ensure your business information is accurate and up-to-date – particularly with adjusted hours – on Google. Your ordering button and menu links should be visible as soon as someone loads your webpage. Toast also suggests you find ways to simply make it more interesting to come to you directly – from including a personal thank-you note or small Instagrammable memento in each takeout bag, to selling special merchandise, to offering rotating promotions like Taco Tuesday to-go packages or EBTV (Everything But the Vodka) take-home Bloody Mary kits.
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?
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.