Machine learning was singled out by Modern Restaurant Management recently as one of the top technologies that will differentiate restaurant brands as we emerge from the pandemic. It cited research from Hospitality Technology that found that 42 percent of guests will choose takeout from a restaurant if they receive offers tied to their past orders. These sort of precision analytics can fine-tune operations in the back of the house too – helping you monitor the supply chain to more accurately forecast food costs and order with less waste. How can you enhance the precision with which you order – and deliver to customers – just what they crave?
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.
For years, geofencing technology has been helping restaurant operators target promotions to customers who are within a set radius of the restaurant at a given time. Now operators are adapting their use of the technology to improve their curb-side pickup business. Panera, for one, extended its wi-fi radius and added geofencing to help streamline the process of getting orders to customers waiting outside. For a customer who opts in to the use of the technology, the restaurant receives an alert when the person arrives to pick up their order, helping to keep curbside traffic moving.
By 2021, almost 50 million people will be using food delivery apps. It’s a good time to understand how people are using your mobile app if you have one. Placing an order may be only one part of it. According to The Rail, while 32 percent of restaurant mobile app users are using them to order food, even more – 42 percent – are looking for information on coupons or other deals. Close behind are those looking up your restaurant’s menu (38 percent) or searching for local food options (37 percent). These figures may change how you go about attracting people to your app – or in how you prioritize updating the information on it. Consider push notifications when you’re running promotions to encourage customers to begin earning rewards. Understand – and continue to ask customers to confirm – which rewards appeal most to them. As for your menu and local profile, make sure your information and menu are up to date on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google My Business.
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?
The restaurant industry is one of extreme ups and downs – in labor expenditure and availability, sales and costs. But what if automation could bring predictability to your operation by supporting staff in certain areas or ensuring safety during the pandemic? Expect to see more of it in both the back and front of the house as operators manage changes in service right now. While automation may still seem futuristic in restaurants, it had been on the rise even well before the pandemic: Oxford University research predicted that 90 percent of quick-service restaurants would become fully automated within the next decade or two. There are ample applications beyond quick service too: Restaurants are now using it to reinvent the traditional buffet for the current environment. Of course, the costs of conversion aren’t insignificant but should factor into your longterm recovery strategy as you also consider the costs required to recruit, pay, insure and train employees on an ongoing basis. Once the technology and insurability of self-driving cars and delivery drones solidifies, automated delivery is likely to become more commonplace for restaurants too. How can tech automation – whether through emerging robotic innovation or even automated tools currently available to you on your POS or mobile app – improve your balance sheet?
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.
In March, an Eater report about the post-quarantine reopening of restaurants in China provided a glimpse at the social distancing requirements and health checks that it predicted would become the norm for restaurants everywhere. Three months later, as a second wave of virus infections is hitting China, the region is again modeling the situation restaurants in other countries may be facing in the near future. Even as restaurants reopen in the U.S., there is a nagging question about if, and when, another lockdown may be needed. Restaurant technology companies are stepping up to provide solutions to help operators not just manage new requirements but navigate an uncertain future. Food & Wine reports that companies including Resy, SevenRooms, Tock and OpenTable are offering tools to help operators reconfigure floorplans and communicate with guests about new procedures. Resy disables its reservations feature once a restaurant has reached capacity, while SevenRooms suggests delivery or takeout once a restaurant is full. In addition to helping operators manage guest traffic, such technology may provide the added benefit of helping communities contain the spread of the virus: By tracking guests’ visits to the restaurant, they can also alert them promptly if and when a second wave of the virus occurs.
Just a few months ago, the use of robots and other technology to automate food preparation and service tasks may have seemed more quirky than practical for much of the restaurant industry. Fast forward to now, and the ability to automate various foodservice tasks looks like a clear advantage: It could help operators preserve social distancing requirements in the kitchen, better protect employee and customer health, and manage labor challenges at a time when infections could strain business. While the cost of such tech has been a barrier to entry in the past, look for that to change as restaurant tech companies take steps to kick-start their own businesses. A report from the San Francisco Chronicle details how the preparation of products ranging from smoothies to salads could change as automation is adopted more widely.