Restaurants: Capitalize on the Connected Guest

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Restaurants: Capitalize on the Connected Guest

By Tammy Mastroberte, Contributing Editor - 08/25/2017

Roughly three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) own a smartphone, and half now own a tablet computer, states Pew Research Center. Every day consumers are using these hand-held computers to interact with their friends, family and favorite brands. Restaurants noticed this trend happening long ago and began creating mobile apps and mobile websites to connect better with their guests and improve operations, service and satisfaction.

However, most of the mobile apps in the restaurant industry are largely undifferentiated, states Gaurav Pant, SVP Research & Principal Analyst, EKN Research in HT's 2017 Restaurant Technology Study. For consumers who are often looking for a unique experience that addresses specific problems, this could be a problem. Instead of quickly offering an undifferentiated mobile app, just to have something available, restaurants should first consider what their core consumer wants from the restaurant's mobile app.

“Many times companies deploy technology just to do it without solving problems for the guests,” says Jason Rusk, vice president of Red Robin Burger Works, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., and operating 489 corporate-owned and 87 franchised locations. “We continue to make sure our technology decisions are focused on what is important to the consumer, and not what we think is important.”

Finding the right balance of technology and personal interaction has also been a top priority for Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, based in Birmingham, Ala., and operating 75 locations. The company watches industry and generational trends to uncover where technology is moving, and balances it with the brands own values and priorities, says Dan Simpson, chief innovation officer at Taziki’s. They also take time to ask their customers what they want.

“We talk to our guests online, in social media, face-to-face conversations and focus groups,” he notes. “We also think interaction with the guest is important, so if we layer in technology, we don’t eliminate the opportunity to interact with guests.”

At Red Robin, the company has done a lot of research with customers to uncover their needs and desires around technology. In doing so, it discovered their guests want to interact with technology at the beginning and at the end of their visits, but not during the experience. As a result, they implemented online ordering with Olo, and because it’s a mobile-enabled website, guests can use any device to order. And at the end their experience in the restaurant, guests can pay via a Ziosk tabletop device.

“We also allow guests to put their name on a waitlist online so they don’t have to wait in the lobby for 35 minutes when they get to a location,” Rusk says.

He also states that they are looking to enhance the online ordering platform so that if a guest is driving, they can call to order through Olo’s switchboard and have it go directly into their back-end technology and point-of-sale system for pick up.

At Taziki’s, the chain offers customers a mobile app and online ordering, where guests can see dine in, take out and catering options, and can pre-order and pre-pay. The mobile platform is run through To Go Technologies and integrates with Fresh Hospitality, which is the company’s ERP system, and Square for the point-of-sale.

“Customers can pre-order, prepay and save orders for the future,” Simpson says. “We do the delivery ourselves, and will be expanding the app to include curbside pickup. That will be live by the summer, along with a fully integrated rewards program.”

The curbside pickup has been a request from customers, and it will all be tracked through the mobile app based on Google mapping, he notes. For the delivery side, the company uses Epson smart printers to indicate the type of delivery and the address.

“We have a smart printer allocated just for online and app orders, and it works in conjunction with our kitchen display,” Simpson notes. “It goes from the app to the cloud and to our kitchen display systems so we can make the order. Then it prints out on the Epson smart printer.”

In the restaurant industry, one of the biggest benefits of the connected guest and allowing them to order online and via mobile apps is the increase in order accuracy. It also speeds up the process for guests so they don’t have to wait on lines either in the store or the drive-thru.

“We also get to know our guests without being intrusive because we can analyze data to see behavioral patterns and learn what they like so we can interact with them in a way that is meaningful,” Simpson explains.