Restaurant operators are no strangers to grinding it out, but the last 15 months have tested the power of what sheer will, perseverance, and creativity can do to ensure survival.
We have seen two trends emerge that will likely be with us for years to come: embracing convenience and trusting the power of the experience to the customer. Both of these adapted experiences embrace more freedom for the diner and more diversification in revenue for the operator. By leveraging contactless & mobile dining technology in new and unique ways, ways in which operators (outside of a few bold folks) have largely avoided to date out of fear of losing the personal relationship with guests, operators have actually seen this technology proven to be a lifeline to many, and have actually driven deeper interactions with their customers.
The first survival tool that has proven effective, and hopefully is here to stay, is the embrace of convenience: services like carryout, outdoor dining, offering a ‘general store’ and, for the first time, utilizing ecommerce to open new lines of income and safe ways for the customer to support their favorite brands. Restaurants that never before considered to-go meals have found ways to augment staffing needs and stay afloat (even flourish in some cases) with kits and meals that can be timed/controlled via order ahead technology integrated directly into their POS and firing off ‘I’m Here’ messaging to best ensure fresh food. Here in California, we are lucky because the hearty can dine outdoors year-round, but all across the country we are seeing restaurants creatively use sidewalks, back yards, roofs, etc. to create a more European approach to embracing the local neighborhood. This also allows for geofencing/QR codes to target where the diner is seated and for folks to order while minimizing contact with servers. During this drought for staff, it also allows for fewer folks to be working the floors (or asphalt).
Another example of leveraging inventory and providing a great new service to the local community has been the advent of the general store within specialty locations – we now can grab the best olive oil from Italy that we could never buy retail, or fresh Thai peppers, or the dough from our favorite pizza place that would never have allowed it before – all while helping their bottom line and minimizing waste. This is also enabled with self-checkout, leveraging mobile wallets and scanning to fulfill one’s basket.
Lastly, we’ve seen a clever embrace of good old ecommerce to bolster a brand that has established itself as a fan favorite for the best hot sauce, beer, pie, etc. but never used to sell (or need to) outside of their community. COVID-19 brought out the best in folks in trying to help keep these brands stay afloat, and restaurants responded by offering this merchandise for national distribution; again, capitalizing on the capabilities of ordering technology.
The common theme here is a willingness to adapt and innovate through the most difficult time this industry has seen in our lifetimes. This willingness opened eyes to how embracing technology can drive efficiency, but more importantly and our second big theme – trusting the power of the experience to the customer.
The New Customer Experience
Historically, the more you provided high-touch dining experiences, the more you could charge, and the deeper the relationship and loyalty you could develop with the customer. COVID-19 tossed both those paradigms on their heads. Even prior to COVID-19 folks were wondering why they couldn’t leverage mobile to better control the dining experience. The use case was typically the young family who has 27.5 minutes before their two children will have eaten and immediately be ready to go – check please! Why is it always when you’re ready to go, you need to wait 15 minutes for the check, particularly when each minute is a precious test of a toddler’s demeanor? COVID-19 took that use case and upped the ante by 1000% - it wasn’t just timing; it was health for both the staff and the diner. Now that the genie has been released from the bottle, we don’t see it going back in anytime soon. Pay at the table and order at the table are rapidly becoming table stakes moving forward, and high-touch has proved it doesn’t need to be literal, but rather tailoring the UX to be brand appropriate. Restaurants once afraid that mobile/tech would take jobs, have seen tips increase 30%+, table turns increase 20%+, loyalty customers come back twice as much and ticket increase more than 17% in locations supporting [email protected]
Let’s eat (and tip!)
About the Author
Jon Squire is CEO of Mobile Solutions Company, CardFree.