Does Your Restaurant Create or Solve Problems for the Customer?

On Monday, Jan. 16, NRF hosted a keynote session titled: "Setting the Table with Danny Meyer – How Focusing on Hospitality Creates Deep Customer Connections." Meyer began the session with a statistic: New York City has approximately 26,500 restaurants (19,000 if one eliminates pizza parlors). This adds up to a lot of competition. Not only is there competition, but restaurants sell a product that no one really needs. Grocery stores provide the same products as a restaurant, often for a much cheaper price.
To overcome this challenge, Meyer urged restaurants to make themselves essential to customers. He advised that one way to do this is by offering unique menu items. For instance, restaurants should edit menus to sell only items that have a unique point of view, and should be selling fewer items so that the restaurant can focus on making those items better quality. They can also do this by employing individuals who have a "hospitality heart" or who are happier themselves when they make customers feel better.
Part of implementing an excellent sense of hospitality and customer service is to be problem solvers for the customer. Far from solving problems, restaurants are often guilty of creating problems. For example, is it impossible for the customer to get a reservation or to be seen on time when the customer has a reservation? Is it impossible to get gluten-free bread or salad dressing on the side because the waiter has to leave the customer to talk to the chef. Restaurants that are able to look for and solve common customer problems before they occur will be offering that necessary element of hospitality to win profound customer loyalty and long-lasting patronage.
Today’s restaurants can and should look to technology to solve some of those pain points, but all too often, if technology rollouts are not well thought out, they can add friction between restaurant and customer. Perhaps the technology is old, slow, broken, or just doesn't live up to customer expectations. A common refrain among technology suppliers at NRF, was the importance of identifying the problem that needs to be solved. Smart technology investments should address a specific need. The latest offerings from exhibitors at NRF 2017 addressed a wide array of issues with mobility, security, robust networks and omni-channel offerings being top themes and for good reason. Each of these areas can address how customers want to interact with a brand. It’s up to restaurant operators to identify how the latest solutions in these buckets can best streamline service and operations for their business model.  
Here are a few high-level insights from a few technology suppliers that HT checked in with at NRF:
“Technology should augment the experience.” – Softbank
“Operators need to be smarter about how they are using bandwidth. Otherwise they’re wasting it.” – Hughes
“Workforce and task management: Give a voice to employees to execute against your goals.” -- Workjam
“Wearables are the next-generation of operational efficiency.” – Samsung
“Mobile payments right now are like the Wild West – there are no standards in place. This offers a great opportunity for innovators to take advantage of in the marketplace.” – Ingenico
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