In recent weeks, the pandemic has led to increased vulnerability in the food supply chain, particularly as the FDA has relaxed certain standards and reduced inspections, and large numbers of sickened workers at Smithfield have forced the closure of one of the company’s largest pork production plants. Even before the pandemic, food traceability was a growing concern for consumers who care about where their food is coming from. As operators monitor changes to their food supply – both now and into our eventual recovery – technology will provide critical support. Mobile traceability tools, in particular, have the potential to fill some of the existing gaps in the supply chain, especially on farms, boats and other links in the chain where traceability tools haven’t been as widespread or easily deployed. You can believe that consumers will care even more about the origins of their food when this crisis is behind us. Read more in Food Navigator. (https://buff.ly/2KbIPca )
Unfortunately, the increased use of online orders and digital payments during the pandemic has elevated the risk that restaurants and other businesses are targeted by cybercriminals. FSR reports that in March alone, email phishing scams increased 600 percent. To protect your business, ensure your cybersecurity software protection is up to date, use two-factor authentication to log in to your systems, limit the number of employees who are accessing them, and make sure everyone is trained on cybersecurity precautions. Additional protections like cyber insurance may help restaurants assess their risks and prevent a breach, and, if one does occur, provide compensation, post-breach data assessment and recovery services, and public relations support.
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?
Now that off-premise dining is the only way to dine on restaurant food for most of the country, technology companies are scrambling to provide solutions for restaurants that, up to now, did not have fully developed off-premise service models. (Even more established companies like Toast are offering their customers credits on software fees, along with other offers.) Often, the new tech solutions on offer also come with discounts or other incentives to help restaurants quickly shift their service models and, at the same time, streamline some of the back-of-house functions to help support them. The Spoon recently assembled a rundown of a number of new tech services that may be of use to you in serving the public and managing your restaurant right now. (https://thespoon.tech/heres-a-rundown-of-restaurant-tech-deals-available-to-struggling-businesses/ )
Fine dining restaurants that focus on dine-in business, with takeout and delivery coming in at a distant second, have had the extra challenge of finding a way to serve customers in recent weeks as restaurants around the country have been forced to close their dining rooms. However, technology is helping them make the switch – and to do it quickly. Last week, Paytronix rolled out rapid-launch order and delivery system that helps restaurants to get the service up and running within a few days. The cloud-based system allows self-service menu management that enables operators to make menu changes quickly. Customers can also use their own delivery drivers or connect to Paytronix’s DoorDash partnership.
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.
As technology has become a bigger part of people’s lives – and a growing part of the restaurant industry in recent years – there has been much discussion and warning about its potential to replace humans or to stifle human connection. But for so many people right now, technology is precisely what is making it possible for people to remain connected to family, friends and colleagues despite the physical isolation we have had to adopt. People are gathering for virtual happy hours and dinner parties – occasions that we may not have considered before. As we emerge from the pandemic, are you looking at your technology any differently? Will this change how we develop technology for restaurants and consumers alike? How will you want to use it to help protect you in the future – and to better connect you with the people you serve?
The tech tools you have at your disposal to operate more efficiently are critical assets to your business right now. They can ensure you quickly have the figures you need to make decisions about inventory and staffing on short notice, for instance. Restaurant365 suggests you forecast sales using recent weeks as your guide instead of the same period last year, order only what you expect to sell based on those forecasts (and cutting back on orders with suppliers as needed), and use tools to help you stay as close as possible to optimal labor costs.