From fine dining to quick service to fast food, restaurant owners have spent decades building customer service into an art form. Providing an exceptional experience requires more than just high-quality food; the most celebrated restauranteurs and brands know that their success will often be determined by how the total dining experience resonates with customers off the plate as well as on it.
No matter the setting, the rules are consistent: provide attentive, fast and consistent service to your customers and you’re more likely to retain them and build long-term connections. Sure, fine dining often elevates customer service to new heights, but history has shown that all levels of restaurants thrive when adding elements of accessibility, speed and a friendly ease of service to the delivery of their food. The result has been a renaissance for the indoor dining experience.
But, as with so many elements of pandemic life, the needs of the restaurant consumer has changed. Customers are dining in less, eating out more, and using new systems to help make it all happen. Packed dining rooms have been replaced by long takeout lines, third party delivery companies and online ordering systems. More than ever before, our food is being presented in containers and takeout bags rather than with plates and silverware.
The result: the playing field used to provide the exceptional customer service that restaurants strive to deliver has been moved outside the dining room.
But within this new paradigm lies the potential for greatness. Now is the time to put our most brilliant restaurant minds to work, and move our service focus to where diners need them to be The demand for takeout and delivery services require the same commitment to customer service, but within a new set of needs and an emphasis on safety.
To maintain the art of customer service in the takeout age, think of these as the new rules for restaurant takeout service:
- YOUR MENU MUST BE AVAILABLE ONLINE – can you imagine a restaurant not offering a menu to a hungry customer? Takeout customers shouldn’t have to work to order whatever food is available, and they are increasingly looking to order via digital channels: digital orders increased by 135% in June 2020 compared to a year ago, according to the NPD Group. Make it easy to search, find and order food online, the most preferred option for modern customers. Consider too your strategy for third party marketplaces and your owned app and website, and how that provides accessibility for your customers.
- INTEGRATION AND COMMUNICATION ARE THE NEW STANDARDS – as orders migrate to online, it is essential that restaurant takeout systems are integrated, connecting ordering platforms with kitchen crews, front-of-house staff and delivery services. And, of course, these systems must allow for constant (and ideally automated) communication with the customer, updating them on the status of their food and information on pickup timing and location. There’s a certain dance to restaurant operations, and it’s only been made simpler through the use of technology for customers and staff alike. Digital dialogue with consumers is essential to maintain service-oriented connections with customers like never before.
- DEVOTE SAFE SPACE AND ARCHITECTURE TO PICKUP – in the past, ordering customers may have been OK to wait inside a cramped or crowded space with other diners for their takeout order. Many learned to simply put up with massive congestion inside the restaurant as delivery service personnel asked busy hosts about to-go orders while guests were also waiting to be seated. No more. Concerns for safety and social distancing require restaurants to find dedicated space for customers and delivery service providers as they pick up their orders.
- UTILIZE PICKUP TECHNOLOGY TO DELIGHT CUSTOMERS – technology can quickly play a role in building positive customer experiences at pickup. Most restaurants today offer pick up on standard shelving units and label orders with small text that’s difficult to read without getting very close, or even touching the bag. Thanks to new technology developments like automated cabinets that communicate order status to customers via mobile text, we can offer a safer, more secure and reliable pickup process.
It's clear that the demands of the new restaurant consumer requires the restaurant pickup experience to move from afterthought to priority. But by following the rules above, and making smart decisions about how we connect and deliver to consumers who aren’t dining in, we can add restaurant-level artistry to the pickup order.
About the Author:
Jayson Tipp is a nationally recognized business leader and innovator in the restaurant industry. An insightful strategist and analyst, his core strength lies in leveraging analytics and creativity to devise and execute winning strategies that drive growth. He has served in leadership roles at Papa Murphy’s, Redbox, Coinstar, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and Starbucks Coffee. Today, Tipp is the Chief Growth Officer at Perfect Company, a provider of technology solutions addressing operational challenges for the restaurant and hospitality industries.