Many quick service restaurants (QSRs) had evolved key aspects of the customer experience before the COVID-19 crisis began. Kiosks replaced cashiers and drive-thru displays went digital to offer customers more personalized and efficient experiences. Many franchisees also improved their delivery and mobile ordering experience to serve customers where it was most convenient for them.
But health and safety concerns as a result of the pandemic have forced a major rethink of even these digital innovations, in addition to how these restaurants will adapt to a new normal in the months and years ahead.
Like most industries, QSRs need to change their business model and operations now if they are to be successful in the post-pandemic world. Here are four key areas for QSRs to consider to survive and possibly thrive in this new normal:
- Safety first: QSRs need to instil trust and confidence with their customers and crew that they operate a safe environment with quality food
- Implement touchless commerce capabilities: Improve digital channels and adopt touchless fulfilment
- Optimize everything: Shift to minimum mandatory tasks at the onset of recovery while rethinking the role of staff and the storefront
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Amplify your message of the positive changes you’ve implemented to support your customers and crew
Focus on customer and store crew safety
Make safety of customers and crew the top priority when positioning your business for success during and post crisis. Many customers will use drive-thrus as a way to minimize human interaction, but for restaurants without drive-thrus, businesses should remember that after the crisis, it won’t be business as usual.
Customers’ economic fears will compound safety concerns. Large unemployment will see customers more price sensitive, seeking more affordable menu options to justify venturing to a restaurant during uncertain times.
Owners should also recognize that their crews are now considered essential employees, and as such, are under new-found stress. Having a reduced menu is one way to help simplify crew operations in the near-term to focus on tackling other challenges like sanitation, delivery and profit margins.
Build trust by communicating your changes loud and proud
As the crisis starts to wane in some parts of the world, many franchisees are asking themselves what changes they’ll have to implement to earn customers’ trust.
Restaurants need to be fearless in ensuring customers of how they’re protecting them in the wake of COVID-19. Open kitchens and food preparation areas previously seen in fast-food restaurants such as Subway will be appreciated, as will transparency on supply chain. Where is the food coming from, how is the food getting to me as a customer and how is it being handled?
Implement touchless payments
Customers will be worried about how many surfaces they’ll need to touch to get their food, including payment. For restaurants with kiosks, owners must figure out how to manage staff operations to ensure cleanliness of kiosk touch screens, minimizing the risk to customers. Other restaurants with order counters will need to consider how to practice social distancing between customers and staff, taking lessons from grocers that implemented measures in the midst of the virus.
Contactless or touchless commerce such as the ability to use mobile wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay will be highly valued, along with delivery and digital channels like the restaurant’s mobile app.
The number of customers at QSRs paying in cash will change. As people have been forced to, and used to, using digital payments, this behaviour will likely remain; capitalise on that and bring it into your day-to day-operations.
How to streamline operations
It’s also more critical to have a direct-to-consumer business at a time when third-party apps like Uber Eats or Grubhub eat up anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the total ticket cost and cause margins to take a hit. This should be a priority for owners whose business wasn’t primarily delivery before, but will be going forward.
U.S. QSRs can also expect about 50 million mobile orders through restaurant or third-party apps by 2021, and mobile ordering is projected to drive more than 10 percent of sales for the sector this year.
Owners need to leverage what they have to execute and operate differently going forward. Think about redeploying staff to delivery allowing you more control of the overall customer journey experience from the restaurant to front door, managing engagement with the customer.
The idea of ghost kitchens is not new. Within this storefront that now has no seating, I could operate burger, Mexican and pizza restaurants, for instance, with my only channel being delivery. Ghost kitchen entrants pose a threat to the traditional QSR and will have a competitive advantage. As an owner, that would concern me because they will be eating into my business.
Look at repurposing physical restaurant square footage that isn’t being used for seating to increase food preparation space, creating a safer environment for your crew.
Quick service’s new normal
Safety will be customers’ main concern in a post-COVID-19 world and they’ll want proof that they’ll be safe when ordering food. Restaurants need to be clear on what they’ve changed or improved to ensure customers won’t be left exposed.
Restaurants can also address customers’ anxieties by building out their digital channels and owning the entire customer experience from food preparation to delivery. For some restaurants this means radically reimaging their businesses to be primarily delivery or take away and being able to redeploy resources to respond to new trends or local guidelines. Businesses that quickly adapt to customers’ digital needs and behaviours will gain their loyalty and trust. Being transparent and trustworthy will convince customers that QSRs are worthy of their business amid ongoing economic uncertainty.
About the Author:
Scott Gorny, is Vice President, Travel & Hospitality, Publicis Sapient.