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.)
If you’re looking for technology help as you reopen, there are deals to be had on everything from third-party delivery to tech platforms as companies look to stand out in the market and rebuild business themselves. One case in point is OpenTable. Even if you haven’t taken reservations before, you may be considering taking them while social distancing requirements call for fewer guests in your restaurant at one time and for more vigilant management of traffic at your building’s entrance. OpenTable just announced its Open Door program, a three-tiered, subscription-based reservations program that provides services at a discount for the remainder of 2020. The program allows operators to access the OpenTable system without subscription fees through the end of the year. Further, there are no cover fees through September 20 and up to 50 percent discounts on cover fees for the fourth quarter of the year. Learn more at https://restaurant.opentable.com/opendoorprogram-2/
This pandemic has brought us back to basics: What are the bare-bones tools a restaurant needs to connect with customers, manage supply and keep sales coming in? While there were endless bells and whistles available to manage different aspects of restaurant operations in the months leading up to the pandemic, the restaurant tech industry is sure to look much different as we emerge from it – it already does, as recent layoffs and furloughs from industry behemoths like Toast indicate. The brands that soldier through these times are likely to have a clear-eyed perspective about the technology that is and is not necessary to keep a business running. Off-premise dining is surely here to stay, along with tools to help you communicate with and transfer food to customers in low-touch or no-touch ways. Are you using the full array of tools available from your POS to help manage critical business needs? What other technology is keeping you going right now?
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?
Making the transition to cash-free payment was among the first steps restaurant operators took to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks. For many, it may make sense to stay that way after the pandemic is over – if their laws allow it. In addition to protecting a business against contamination and theft, going cashless can enable greater guest spending and also help develop your loyalty program and the customer data you collect – assets that are critical to businesses right now. These weeks, challenging and disruptive as they are, can be a time to scrutinize the technology you are using so you know what adjustments to make as times improve. What tech is helping to streamline your sales and business processes right now and what is slowing you down?
What do you most loyal guests want right now? A recent Datassential report finds that some consumers want operators to do such things as post on social media about the steps they are taking to make their restaurant safe, such as working with a limited staff. Others want to visit a restaurant to pick up their food and observe what precautions the business is taking. Boomers, an at-risk group, are more likely to be comfortable picking up food curbside or at a drive-thru. Across the board, customers are looking to order multiple meals that can be eaten over the course of a few days. What does your data tell you about what different customer groups want and how they want you to offer it? It may provide some answers that can help you maintain your connections with them.
Consumers don’t consider technology to be an eliminator of jobs but rather a means of improving convenience – and restaurants are investing in more of such customer-facing technology solutions this year. These were key tech-related takeaways from the National Restaurant Association’s latest state-of-the-industry report. When it comes to customer-facing tech, kiosks and other self-service technology still pay dividends. Their biggest benefit may be speed – by visibly reducing congestion and automating orders, they expedite the order process and shorten lines – but this technology is also winning consumers over for its ability to customize. The proof is in the payment: The convenience that kiosks provide can lead guests to spend 15 to 20 percent more per order, according to Pymts.com. #restauranttech
What if running a profitable restaurant became less about analyzing databases and spreadsheets and more about following AI-generated directions? That’s increasingly becoming a reality for some restaurants. In a recent roundup from Modern Restaurant Management about major disruptions to expect in the coming decade, AI applications were among the major changes industry insiders expect. David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for Capriotti’s, sees increasing potential for video to work hand-in-hand with AI – using facial recognition to identify guests and connect them with loyalty programs, reducing theft by video monitoring, and improving employee performance by monitoring their actions and providing on-the-spot upselling and service advice. #restauranttech
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.