The technology you’re adopting now to bring efficiencies to your business and minimize contact may have the unintended effect of distancing your guests from your staff – and the service they have come to expect from your brand. As you introduce technology into your business, make sure that it includes features that somehow replicate (and ideally, enhance) your service. When your return customers order food from you online or via your app, are they prompted with information on their past orders to help streamline the processing of their current order? Whenever they are in the vicinity of your restaurant, could you use predictive analytics to send them a promotion they are likely to crave? Using artificial intelligence can help you demonstrate that you know a guest well – and fill any empathy gaps that exist when a guest has less human contact with your brand.
From tech-enabled, touch-free food pickups to streamlined mobile ordering, front-of-house technology tends to garner the most headlines. But how you use technology in the back of house is likely even more important – and should be a key area of focus for operators in the next year. It’s all about efficiency. Your back-of-house systems are the foundation of your front-of-house success: They can help you monitor your inventory; build, price and adjust your menu effectively; place orders based on available supply; and predict demand to help you adjust staffing levels. Identify an area of waste in your back-of-house operation and there is likely technology available that can help you measure, monitor and address it before it becomes a serious concern. And at a time as challenging as the one restaurants are experiencing now, every little bit of efficiency helps.
Is your digital ordering platform up to the challenges this winter will bring? The season will be a test for restaurants everywhere: The days of generating only a small fraction of business from off-premise orders are over – perhaps permanently. So consider this winter an opportunity to get to know your data better than ever before. Andrew Robbins, the CEO of Paytronix, recently told Pyments.com that this winter would be a chance for brands to get to know their guests even better by exploring their customer relationship management systems and – with the help of artificial intelligence – analyzing customer purchasing patterns. “This can lead to long-term changes, like data-driven subscription programs that further cement the relationships between brands and their guests,” he said. Instead of looking at this winter as a period to survive, consider it a time when you can harness your systems to truly understand the data you’re collecting – and then turn it into offers that build the kind of loyal following that will carry you through times like this.
Last year at this time, having an on-trend menu or holiday promotions may have been priorities for you. Fast-forward a year and restaurant hospitality – and the ethics surrounding it – looks much different. One recent Washington Post article mentioned how diners, in general, are going through a more rigorous decision-making process when it comes to determining if and where they will dine out. Criteria that would have seemed outlandish just a year ago – like a restaurant’s COVID-19 protocols, table-distancing measures, neighbourhood and amount of foot traffic – now speak volumes to consumers about a restaurant’s potential risks (and therefore, the quality of their hospitality). If local restrictions fluctuate in the coming months, how will you consistently communicate safety to your guests and off-premise customers? Continue to promote – via your website, social media and in-store signage – that you are committed to protecting the safety of both your staff and your guests. If guests want to access detailed information about how you’re handling COVID-19, provide details on your website. Post your employee sick leave policy, specific cleaning protocols and schedule – yes, recent research indicates that more consumers want to know these details – and what you are doing to protect the safety of off-premise meals as well. Much like restaurants that have developed a loyal following of customers who have food allergies, restaurants that visibly protect guest safety – not just for show but as a deeply felt value – stand to earn guest loyalty too.
Imagine not having to touch your credit card or mobile phone to make a payment. That’s the reality for a number of restaurants and retailers in the Pasadena, Calif. area who recently launched PopID’s facial recognition payment technology – and pandemic-related anxiety about contacting various surfaces may create more demand for such technology. After customers register an account with PopID, they can visit a restaurant and the system will scan their face, which will bring up their past orders, loyalty points and stored payment details. While drive-thru and walk-up kiosks will still require a customer to touch a screen for now, tableside orders and payments can be completely touch-free.
Is there an area where your restaurant can give a little bit in order to demonstrate customer benefits in the long run? According to this Bloomberg report for the Washington Post, Chipotle had offered free delivery for much of the second quarter to entice customers. Now it is beginning to charge for that service, but the company has found that customers who used Chipotle’s app for free delivery are now going on to use the app to place orders for pickup – especially when they are reminded that they can do this for free and for a typically shorter wait time. Chipotle is gaining new converts to pickup – as well as more customer data – all for charging more for delivery and communicating well through its app.
The lockdown period has led to a spike in the transactions conducted online – and fraud has climbed at the same time. A new study from Forter, which specializes in e-commerce fraud prevention, found that in recent months online food transactions from restaurants have increased by 134 percent and online orders from food brands have jumped 225 percent. At the same time, the study found a 32 percent increase in online fraud in the restaurant sector. That figure may grow further as it can take time to identify fraudulent transactions. As you get business back up and running, be mindful of cyber threats including the hacking of user accounts, shipping fraud and the purchase of gift cards with stolen credit cards. While you take steps to train employees on safety practices, also review your technology systems and employee training procedures to manage potential weak spots.
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?
Data is valuable currency for any restaurant business. But as cybersecurity becomes increasingly precarious as retail and restaurant brands experience more breaches, consumers will continue to be wary about parting with the personal information that helps you create experiences that will bring them back. However, if you find ways to tap into what your guests value most and build memorable experiences around those things, people will be more inclined to share their data with you. That was a key perspective shared by several speakers at Customize, a food personalization summit hosted by The Spoon recently. At the event, Melanie Bartelme, a Mintel analyst, said restaurant operators can provide real value in their products, services or experiences by offering such benefits as diet or cooking tips guests can use, food products that benefit their health, or even a streamlined technology experience. These benefits are advantageous in that they can appeal to broad swaths of your customers without being generic. Then once these customers are comfortable sharing their personal information with you, you can zero in on offering them more personalized experiences based on their preferences – seasonal drink recipes might appeal to the at-home entertainer, or customized Friday-night text messages could prompt a customer to order his favorite vegetarian pasta dish as he leaves work.