In 2017, I wrote an article on the topic of tableside ordering and payment. At that time, there were only a handful of tactical point solutions that offered table-side tablets, kiosks, or even mobile payment for their guests. There was also a slim number of restaurants adopting customer-facing technology. Back then, the operators’ mentality about using guest-facing technology in the restaurant industry was: Why would we need technology to fix a service that is not “broken” to begin with? Plus, there was the fear that the use of technology would take away from the hospitality that comes with dining out. And, at that time, guests were not keen to use technology. Why? Frankly, because the technology was not very user friendly and often had technical issues.
A Renewed Interest in Contactless
Déjà vu! Here we are looking at tableside ordering and payment once again. But will the diners of today be more receptive to contactless ordering and payment technologies than they were in 2017? We hope so!
Due to lockdowns, constrained capacity and the overall pre-COVID operating environment, Eureka! had to take bold steps to transform its business and emerge with a future-proof technology platform. For the safety of our guests and our staff, we at Eureka! knew that we must have a truly contactless in-dining solution already in place for when we were allowed to reopen our patio and/or indoor dining. And we wanted to make sure we emphasized that the technology would not replace human customer service. Our goal was to enhance the guest experience through this new digital interaction and to ensure that we could give our guests a safe, simple and seamless experience during their entire stay.
Before the pandemic: Eureka! Restaurant’s primary focus was to drive guests into our restaurants to eat our delicious food and enjoy our hand-crafted drinks and local beer selections. Online ordering technology was not one of our top drivers for generating sales. The pandemic made online ordering essential, but we needed more than just online ordering technology for takeout orders. We wanted a platform that would satisfy our immediate needs and that could also grow with us. However, we quickly realized that the available contactless ordering solutions did not provide all of the functions we required.
It was our goal to offer a technology solution that allowed our restaurants to serve excellent food with a great level of customer service while implementing a user-friendly and interactive ordering system. We wanted to provide a “commerce everywhere” approach. This meant every customer would have a consistent experience, whether they were ordering online for pickup, delivery or dine-in. And we also wanted this technology to offer customers the ability to pay directly from the comfort of their own phone.
Eureka! found that OneDine shared these same goals and so we partnered with them to implement a branded ordering system.
We knew that downloading an app adds a barrier to adoption and use. Instead of developing an app for our contactless ordering system, Eureka! chose to use OneDine’s web-based ordering system which is accessible to guests by either scanning a QR code or tapping an NFC sensor. However, we branded and configured it to specifically serve our guests.
First, we wanted to ensure guest checks could remain open throughout their stay with just a single charge at the end of their visit. This would allow them to order additional F&B items without needing to pay each time. When the guest is ready to pay, they have a wide array of secure payment options.
Second, it was imperative to keep the human element intact. So, we added a “Request a Human” button to the homepage of our OneDine ordering screen. When pressed, our Service Champions and Managers immediately receive a notification on their smartwatch or from on the OneDine tablet. The notification tells the staff member that a guest from a specific table is requesting assistance. This is a great feature because it allows us to provide the personal service and hospitality our guests expect.
With the availability of kiosks, tableside tablets and other mobile devices, why did we choose to have our guests use their own devices for ordering?
- First, most of the population is wary of using a device or a traditional printed menu that was previously used by another person.
- Second, staff members are required to sanitize all devices in between parties. It would be difficult to manage this amount of cleaning with a limited staff.
- Third, it helped us avoid significant capital expenditures, and our time to market on a solution is exponentially faster as there is no need for no procuring, configuring, staging, shipping, installation, testing, etc.
When any new technology is introduced to staff, the first thing that they wonder is: Will this technology replace me? For our contactless ordering solution, the answer is a resounding “No.” This technology is in place to enhance hospitality and assist with restaurant operations. But, to deliver a successful guest experience, both the staff and the guest must buy in to the solution and believe in the technology. This is where proper training of the staff is key. Our operations and training team did an exceptional job in training management, front of house staff, and even our guests.
- Training must begin with the management team. They are the leaders that set the example and expectations for their staff.
- Next, carefully explain the reason for and the process that accompanies the new technology to your front-of-house staff. This is very important as they directly interact with your guests. If your front-of-house staff are able to successfully explain and/or demonstrate the process to your guests, it will help increase confidence and use among guests.
In the middle of a crisis, with limited staff, our brand quickly figured out how to implement transformational, future-proof technology without a massive capital expenditure or major changes to our point of sale system. While it was an incredibly challenging project, the end result was a proud accomplishment for both companies. And we learned that developing and implementing new technology does not require a large IT department.
It was an honor to work closely with the Eureka! operations, marketing and leadership teams from the concept to rollout. And I am very grateful to Rom and OneDine’s technical, engineering, support, and sales teams for executing this exciting breakthrough in restaurant technology!
The best part about technology is that we can continue to improve it. Now that we have completed the rollout of contactless ordering to all our locations, we are now working to develop improvements with OneDine that will further enhance the customer service experience! This path in technology creates new future opportunities for even more enhancements in this digital engagement experience.
We hope that this pandemic will end soon, but I think that this type of guest self-service, contactless ordering technology will be here to stay. While technology in the restaurant will never fully replace human service, it can certainly enhance staff productivity and restaurant service efficiency!
About the Author
Kathy Alcaras is the Director of IT for Eureka Restaurant Group. She is HT's 2021 Top Women in Restaurant Technology - Innovator. Alcaras spearheaded the launch of the restaurant’s first online ordering platform and a new contactless ordering service model.