If there is a silver lining to the past couple of years in the restaurant industry, it could be that operators have become significantly more nimble. Technology has supported this transition, enabling restaurants to monitor and measure everything from ingredient waste to menu profitability. Expect even more fine-tuning as restaurants continue to manage steep operating costs. That will include greater precision when it comes to not just ingredient use, but also the prediction of exactly what ingredients a restaurant will need in the near future. Chipotle, for one, is piloting a “cook-to-needs” kitchen management system in select California stores that provides demand-based cooking and ingredient preparation forecasts, according to a Restaurant Technology News report. The goal of the system is to help each restaurant make the most of its ordered ingredients, maximize freshness and minimise food waste. The report said the system uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor ingredient levels in real time, then notifies the team how much to prepare, cook and when to start cooking. This information then feeds data collection that supports real-time production planning for each restaurant.
The ease with which your guests and staff can use your technology for placing and processing orders, as well as for making and accepting payment, can have a significant impact on everyone’s satisfaction. Your staff and guests will have different comfort levels when it comes to handling such tasks as navigating your menu and making a payment, or plugging a gift card into a tablet or splitting a check. Making these processes intuitive for as broad a subset of people as possible will help leave guests with a better impression, give them more confidence that they will receive the food they want, minimize the amount of time you need to spend training staff to use a new system, and can help ensure your tech is actively making your team’s jobs easier, faster and less prone to error. When you take a look at your current system, where are there snags are areas that could be improved?
These days, so many of your guests’ interactions with your restaurant take place without even walking through your door or picking up the phone. Whether they are looking to book a table, check your future availability, order food, purchase a gift card, or simply find up-to-date information about your menu or hours, your guests rely on the functionality of your online presence. How well does yours represent your brand? Give your website a checkup to see how much it allows guests to help themselves. A recent report from The Rail advises restaurants consider using a chat widget to answer guest inquiries instead of making them wait for an email response, as well as using an FAQ section and leaning on social media to provide updates on special promotions or changes guests should know about.
At a time when restaurants are feeling plenty of friction from labor challenges, inflation and the supply chain, operators should be leaning on technology to remove as much of the remaining friction as possible. An impactful place to focus is on customer ordering and payment for both on- and off-premise meals. OneDine is one company that is enabling streamlined ordering and payment in both areas. When your guests place an off-premise order, can they easily input information about an allergy or dietary preference? Can they split the bill with a friend? Consumers are eager to share meals with friends again. Restaurants that can accommodate their different needs and preferences with a user-friendly interface, while also easing the stress of paying the bill, are in a strong position to attract guests looking to gather over restaurant food.
As escalating food and energy costs continue to drive inflation higher, restaurant operators are trying to run even more leanly than they have in the past two years. But as a recent Nation’s Restaurant News report mentions, you can use tech to minimize the impact of inflation on your operation. Emphasize the importance of ordering directly from you through your website or app versus third-party vendors – being able to accumulate and analyze guests’ data is critical to developing the menu items and promotions that will bring them back. Then try to put costly or tedious functions on autopilot. That means considering QR codes or self-order kiosks at the front of house to streamline ordering and payment while minimizing the labor required. In the back of house, consider tech tools that can make your food safety program more consistent – connected temperature sensors, digital checklists in place of paper processes, and the use of alerts to monitor cleaning and maintenance can all help you minimize waste and manage resources better at a time when they are especially tight.
Consumer customization isn’t going away. In fact, looking beyond your menu to give your customers even more options to customize their experience may help you gain a competitive advantage. Tech is enabling those changes. According to Dana Macke, the director of trends for the Americas at Mintel, current efforts to expedite delivery are going to evolve into efforts to offer greater flexibility. That means that going forward, restaurants will be able to give customers greater control over when their delivery order arrives, for example. We can also expect greater use of predictive technologies to help restaurants ensure their guests’ orders are tailored to their schedule and needs. Can you enhance the customization of your customers’ ordering experience?
Have you enabled Google ordering, essentially making it possible for people to find your restaurant and place an order without leaving Google to do so? In recent weeks and months, a couple of industry insiders have said they consider it a no-brainer for driving revenue, and for good reason: restaurants have a massive potential audience in people who search Google for dining suggestions, commission fees are lower from Google ordering than those charged by third-party providers, and Google isn’t trying to get into the restaurant business (and, importantly, control the data of restaurant customers). While you make it possible for guests to order directly from Google, also make sure your Google-able information is up to date – and encourage happy guests to leave you a review to boost your presence on the search engine
The end of the year is a time restaurant operators can count on for strong performance – with December typically the most profitable month of the year. But Black Box data from December points to sales growth of just 4.1 percent, compared to 8.4 percent in November. It marked the weakest month for the industry since the 2.7 percent growth reported in March 2021. In light of those results, a recent Restaurant Business report suggested guests may be questioning restaurants’ value amid steeply climbing costs. It’s no wonder – amid ingredient and labor shortages, along with escalating costs, something has to give. But all the same, operators can only turn those figures around if they can demonstrate the value of choosing a restaurant meal over one prepared at home. Staffing shortages can cause service to take a hit, but you may be able to help compensate for this with improved speed of preparation: Simplify your menu with speed-scratch ingredients or other elements ready to be added to a number of dishes. Remove friction from the process guests must go through when searching for you online and placing an order. That means monitoring your restaurant online to ensure information about your menu, hours and contact information is up to date on review sites, search engines and social media, as well as testing your online ordering functionality to remove glitches and ensure repeat guests are recognized in your system. Speaking of loyal guests, double down on your loyalty program and guest personalization, which will make it feel more worthwhile for guests to support your business (either in your dining room or through order collection), as opposed to having a third-party vendor drop off their delivery order. Finally, aim to appeal to guests’ own values by supporting local suppliers and sharing their business names with guests – an expensive meal feels more worthwhile to a guest when they know it supports their broader community.
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.
Your restaurant’s technology is what allows you to quickly pivot with the many challenges of the operating environment right now – whether that’s managing supply shortages, scheduling staff, accommodating multiple delivery platforms or another aspect of restaurant management. Your online ordering system is a critical piece of your technology stack, both because it is the vehicle your customers use to interact with your brand and because it allows you to adjust to rapid changes in the market. Does your online ordering system allow you to adjust your menu on demand if you’re out of a key ingredient? Does it adjust delivery prices based on how far your customer is from your restaurant? Can it incentivize customers to collect an order from you instead of ordering delivery? Your system should allow you to flex to meet the moment.