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Trend Report: Contactless Solutions for Restaurants

Alternatives to cash have always been a good idea. So has self-service. But now, giving guests the opportunity to order, pay, and dine where, when, and how they prefer is a necessity for restaurants from quick-serve to full-service.
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As contactless solutions continue to evolve in favor of convenience and efficiency, we’re taking a look at the new opportunities for customer experience, workforce management, and predictive analytics that these solutions hold.

“The pandemic accelerated consumer adoption of technology for meal ordering and that has continued,” says Stephanie Nardini, VP of IT at Jersey Mike’s. “Our customers appreciate the ease of use of the technology, ordering speed, and contact-free options.” 

Jersey Mike’s has provided its stores with a new unified commerce platform that seamlessly integrates all ordering channels, allowing for a consistent customer experience regardless of how they order. Nardini says, “Our new system accepts orders from our mobile app, website, phone-in, and in-person. It also gives our customers a choice in how they receive their order such as delivery, in-store pickup and curbside pickup.”

“Restaurant guests who were formerly reluctant to utilize technology were forced into it due to dining room closures and required distancing,” says Joe Tenczar, CIO at Sonny’s BBQ and Co-Founder of Restaurant CIOs. “Once guests became acclimated, they got to know the benefits of technology for transactional dining — like quick-serve and fast-casual — and that customer base continues to use it frequently.”

Now restaurants are looking for new ways to reduce friction for their guests and staff through technology, Tenczar believes. Kiosks and mobile solutions are becoming even more popular for ordering, and food lockers, curbside pickup tech, and innovative drive-thru technologies are all becoming prevalent for pickup.

Even dine-in, full-service restaurants continue to test and iterate contactless solutions, although the adoption rate among guests who want experimental dining is slower than among, say, QSR devotees. “We have been running a contactless payment test in one restaurant for six months and we are slowly seeing an increase in guest adoption of this technology using their own devices,” says Karen Bird, Chief Information Officer at HOA Brands. “We are focused on driving online ordering and delivery with our primary delivery service providers and continue to see a high rate of adoption for these services.”

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Buzzworthy New Contactless Solutions

What solutions have caught the eye of discerning restaurant tech gurus?

“Apex is an interesting solution that is getting a lot of visibility right now,” says Tamy Duplantis, President of Return on Information. “They provide order pickup solutions with designated food lockers that can run integrated to your online ordering and kitchen system or can run non-integrated.” 

Fresh Technology is a digital connection between the restaurant customer and the kitchen. “They flipped the paradigm to tie online ordering to the kitchen display system,” says Duplantis. “The online ordering system has direct knowledge of the capacity in the kitchen, which is the missing link today where a single POS / KDS in-store is receiving orders from their own native app, the DSPs (Ubereats, Doordash, GrubHub), walk-in orders, and in-store orders. But there is currently no automatic ‘throttle’ to reduce the number of allowed orders from all of these channels, resulting in the kitchen sometimes receiving more orders than it can handle. In order for a restaurant to manually throttle capacity they have to go onto each online ordering portal and either pause (or turn off) ordering altogether or set the max orders per hour much lower.  Then they inevitably forget to turn it back on or set the order capacity back up after the rush.”

“OneDine is so much more than mobile payment,” says Tenczar. “The tech has the ability to seriously transform the efficiency and effectiveness for both the operator and the guest.  In some cases, though, it will challenge the operator to think differently in order to take full advantage of the tech.” OneDine was named one of HT’s Industry Heroes for offering its Park – Order – Pay product to restaurants at the height of the pandemic at no cost, allowing restaurants to convert their parking spaces to generate income via large QR codes.

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Executive Insight: The Benefits of Digital Food Lockers

"I think we are starting to see a second wave of ecommerce spread from the retail world into the foodservice space. Operators who can demonstrate to their customer base that they have thought about all the different ways that orders might come into their restaurant, these omni channel orders we refer to, are the ones that have the opportunity to demonstrate to off premise customers that they can deliver a good experience for takeout or delivery." READ MORE

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How Contactless Solutions Can Support the Workforce

Many contactless solutions deliver not only an exceptional customer experience but also optimization of workflow among restaurant staff. They hold potential for improving the work environment and freeing up servers to focus on the human touch.

“There is a focus on equipping the guest with the ability to order, re-order, and pay at the table by scanning a QR code that launches an app that integrates with the store POS system,” says Duplantis. “In addition to meeting the guest expectation for speed of service, this functionality potentially mitigates the staffing shortage in restaurants.”

But there remain labor challenges that technology can’t easily address. “Pre-paid orders help with the order checkout process but food pickup at curbside actually increases the labor issue,” says Bird. “We initially implemented curbside pickup using a technology solution that indicated when the guest arrived in the parking lot. We have since put that solution on pause due to the staffing crisis we are all experiencing.  Many of our restaurants do not have the staff to run food to the cars.”

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Executive Q&A: The Convenience of Innovative Payment Options

"Contactless dining is here to stay. COVID permanently changed the dining experience as we once knew it. The ability to minimize contact with touchpoints like menus will not decrease post-COVID, as many will remain cautious about those touchpoints. Surveys have shown that customers prefer having control through paying when they want and eliminating wait times to place orders, which leads to higher table turnover and increased total check value." READ MORE

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Leveraging Data With Predictive Analytics

Accurately predicting periods of high and low demand can help with appropriate staffing, and other issues — and all the customer data collected via contactless transactions can be leveraged to make such predictions. As Ben Hall, CIO at Krispy Kreme, told attendees in his keynote at MURTEC Executive Summit & Showcase, his brand is focusing on “demand planning” technology to get better at forecasting sales across all channels and better handle challenges such as labor, supply chain, and commodities.

In addition to predicting larger trends, data can also make individual-focused predictions. “Many contactless solutions utilize digital wallets or other identifiable information in order to make the transaction smoother and more personal,” says Tenczar. “This benefits the guest, but also gives the operator the opportunity to capture that identifiable guest information and tie it to a transaction — a purchase, review, promotion usage, for example.” Tenczar calls this the “magic link” that can help brands understand guest behavior at a granular level, opening up opportunities for targeted marketing and hyper personalization.