At the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, Technomic’s Joe Pawlak had some good news about key segments of the restaurant industry (and less-great news about another) – namely that business for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants had returned to pre-pandemic levels, but fine dining was still three years away from a full recovery. To be sure, the technology that has kept businesses going during the pandemic has been a closer fit for limited-service restaurants. However, many of the tech tools that have been used to elevate efficiency and hospitality these past two years still apply to full-service restaurants, albeit in different ways. In a recent episode of the webcast Restaurants Redefined from Modern Restaurant Management, three industry professionals weighed in on how they see technology evolving for restaurants after the pandemic – particularly for full-service restaurants. At the front of the house, for example, technology can help ease some of the friction points. What if a restaurant could use geofencing technology to identify when a guest arrives and get a jump on preparing their favorite appetizer or having their usual wine on the table as they sit down? While a full-service restaurant might not want to use a QR code for guest ordering, offering a code (or other app-based option) for paying the bill when the guest is ready to depart could improve the overall experience. Empowering a server to offer a refund or other check adjustment on the spot as needed via tech tools can also boost service. At the back of the house, technology that minimizes human interaction – ovens, grills and other appliances that don’t require much human oversight – will help free up staff to elevate guests’ experience at the front of house. Finding ways to adapt the technology available – not so much to minimize human contact but to improve the human contact that full-service is known for – might just help hasten the recovery of these businesses.
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.
While restaurant technology had been steadily gaining ground before Covid, it appears to have changed many processes for good. During a recent online discussion presented by the National Restaurant Association, industry leaders weighed in on the most important tech-enabled shifts that have become permanent in the past two years. Among them are the online cashless ecosystem for restaurants – it’s now a customer expectation to be able to order via an app or a delivery service, no cash needed. Flexibility to order/collect via multiple channels has also become critical – and technology is key to helping your staff juggle all of those streams simultaneously. Finally, tech continues to fine-tune our capability to order and pay at the table. (So despite the pushback that QR codes get from some guests, the flexibility and speed they offer operator and guest alike may give them staying power.)
While the pandemic has held plenty of challenges for foodservice operators, it has also sparked a period of creative solving like never before – and the lessons will be useful for the long term. One example is the ongoing refinement of menu engineering, and specifically, operators’ ability to adjust prices on the fly based on supply and demand. Operators can use dynamic pricing to increase the price of a menu item that is selling well, for example, and decrease the price of an item being sold during a slower shift (some restaurants are even starting to use dynamic pricing for the chance to reserve their most in-demand tables on busy nights). Using a QR code system can enable this sort of flexibility. At a time when it’s become all the more challenging to keep the right supplies coming in and anticipate customer traffic, dynamic pricing may provide some extra flexibility. The key is adjusting prices downwards (when possible) as well as upwards so customers perceive it as a fair strategy.
If your restaurant is located within close reach of an airport or sports stadium, look for potential opportunities to branch out into new new business streams via third-party delivery companies. (And these options aren’t about delivery but about bringing extra convenience to people in places where they really need it.) Uber Eats is offering order-ahead pickup options at airports for participating restaurant vendors, allowing customers to order ahead via their app, then pick up a favorite item en route to a connecting flight. Meanwhile, Grub Hub now offers fans at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. the ability to scan a QR code on the back of their seat and place a pickup order for food from stadium vendors – allowing people to avoid long stadium lines.
The QR code has been among the many tech advances to have experienced a sharp rise in usage during the pandemic. To be sure, it delivers safety benefits within restaurants as a tool that limits face-to-face contact, and it helps restaurants swap menu items quickly and collect more insight-rich data from guests. But it’s not for every guest or every restaurant – and what has been embraced as a useful tool while consumers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 may become less appealing once the pandemic is safely behind us. FSR Magazine indicates, it comes down to the experience a restaurant offers. Do your guests want convenience and speed delivered in a less personal way, or a relaxed opportunity to reconnect with friends? If your restaurant falls somewhere in the middle, consider how you can balance efficiency and the need for a special experience.
If your restaurant has successfully used QR codes in recent months to enable guests to review your menu or place an order, consider doubling down on them – they provide not only a fast, contact-free ordering and payment option but also a digital window onto your guests and their consumption habits. QR codes connect your POS to your guests. You can use that connection to bring your menu to life on the guest’s phone through videos you share about special menu items. Further, when a guest is already on their phone to order, it’s that much easier to get them to sign up for your loyalty program or agree to answer a few survey questions – further feeding the insights you can use to make improvements to your menu and overall business.
QR codes, which have enabled no-touch digital menu reviewing and ordering throughout the pandemic, all while helping short-staffed operators keep up with orders, have become ubiquitous in recent months. The National Restaurant Association said half of all full-service restaurants in the U.S. have begun using the codes since the start of the pandemic. But now concerns about privacy are making some question consumers’ use of the codes because businesses can gather valuable data about consumer spending patterns through the codes – and it’s all connected to their credit cards, the New York Times reports. If you’re using QR codes in your business, be sure you understand how the tech companies enabling your codes are using your data (i.e. ensure they aren’t selling it) and how you can best protect your customers and business in the event of a breach.
Restaurants are managing orders from more sources than ever – yet still need to prepare those items at the same time. If they’re short on staff, juggling this and keeping customers informed about their order can be a challenge. But smart pacing tools for order fulfillment can help. As Pymnts.com reports, that could include an automated text to a guest when their food or their table is ready, or a QR code that allows a guest to place an order or pay from the table as they leave.
The pandemic has pushed restaurant technology several years ahead of where it would be otherwise – and our increased ordering of takeout in the past year has made us more comfortable ordering food on our phones. Could allowing guests to order by phone work for you on-premise as well as off? At a time when labor is scarce, it may be worth considering. During a recent episode of the restaurant webcast The Barron Report, the founders of Branded Strategic Hospitality spoke about how they have invested in their entire tech stack, to include the app Bbot, which enables QR code scanning for ordering from the restaurant. If you have a tech-savvy guests who are just as happy to read a menu on their phone as on a piece of paper, you might try experimenting with QR codes for not only menu review but also ordering.