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.
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.
Savvy restaurant operators are thinking locally with the technology they are implementing, tapping into tech tools to attract customers who happen to be nearby with promotions that appeal to them in the moment. Watch for more tech businesses to piggyback on the push for local marketing. Case in point: Operators that have partnered with Uber Eats could now get an extra boost from a new partnership with the navigation app Waze. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that Uber-Eats-branded pins will appear on Waze in 20 cities. A user can click on the pin to save the restaurant for later and then get an alert at 5 p.m. to remind them of the restaurant they wanted to try.
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.
COVID-19 has forced operators to scale down their dining room business while scaling up their capacity for off-premise orders. But preparing for an increase in online orders isn’t as simple as plugging your existing menu into your website. Your online menu needs to exude the same professionalism as the experience of sitting in your dining room. But instead of relying on your décor and friendly servers, your online menu alone must make people feel comfortable that they are in good hands. Restaurant Den suggests operators keep several tips in mind when revising their online menu, including scaling down choices, clarifying ingredients (and directing those with food allergies to more information on their website), and checking the spelling of each item.
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.)
Improving your website is another one of those tasks that’s difficult to take on in the midst of the daily rush. Now that business is slower – and technology is all the more important in keeping us connected and informed – take a closer look at your site and identify some areas to improve. First, don’t make people dig for your contact information, address, hours, and your current menu – the information should be easy for people to find with minimal clicks. Then, make it clear how they can order from you. If you deliver (particularly with in-house staff) post a prominent button at the top of your homepage to drive people to that function. Other links at the top of your homepage should connect people to your story/background, rewards program and any merchandise you offer. Of course, your site should be mobile-friendly too so all of this information is easily accessed on a mobile phone. If you’d like to see some websites that work, check out the examples on this page.