The pandemic has been a wake-up call for restaurant operators to get their digital houses in order. With market conditions shifting quickly and unpredictably, unprecedented agility is required for restaurants seeking to adapt to new customer behaviors, regulations and operating requirements.
At the same time, health safety must be an even higher priority than ever, which calls for contactless, touchless customer interactions. Moreover, order capture and order management capabilities are being tested, with an influx of customers using restaurant channels (mobile, third party, call center and websites) and choosing among the many options for delivery or pickup.
Through it all, restaurants must ensure a seamless experience across all channels and strengthen loyalty-building programs by aggregating, analyzing and interpreting the myriad of data collected.
Many restaurant operators were able to adapt quickly to market dynamics brought on by COVID-19, but others (often chains that were already struggling) were unable to maintain even scaled-down operations. It’s been survival of the fittest — with technology being a critical factor enabling operators to weather the pandemic storm.
After meeting with our restauranteur clients and other industry leaders, we’ve developed this list of critical priorities for operators seeking to keep their service top-notch and their customers happy.
Recent dine-in closures exposed many weaknesses, as restaurants for the first time faced intense demand for digital ordering and processing. Most online ordering solutions can effectively handle spikes in incoming orders and route them to the store point-of-sale (POS) system. However, to ensure menu information is consistent across all channels — including third-party partners — all product information must be provided as standard APIs so that customers get complete information and are able to customize their selections just as they would on direct channels.
This will also help increase revenue, with fewer customers switching to other restaurants because they didn’t see their favorite selection available — or understand that they could customize an order. We also recommend including digital means for the customer to receive upsell options, such as beverages and popular or previously ordered side items or desserts — another way to increase transaction amounts.
Many restaurants are unprepared to ensure cross-channel menu consistency. They lack integration platforms such as MuleSoft and Dell Boomi, which integrate legacy POS systems to delivery service providers and can ensure that customizations and promotions are accurate.
Supporting the new channels
As restaurants transition back to full dine-in capacity, operators must plan for and continually adjust their resources to support order volume and consumption fluctuations across all areas: dine-in, delivery, drive-through, take-out and curbside pickup. Consumers have grown accustomed to the expanded service options brought about by the coronavirus, and we believe that demand for these services will remain long term — perhaps forever. For this reason, forecasting models that rely on pre-COVID-19 data are now obsolete. To more effectively project demand, restaurants should use recent data combined with updates to regulatory guidelines and local current events. For example, even data as easily available as the closely watched Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracking map has proven helpful to national and regional chains in planning supply-chain alterations.
Data-driven customer experiences
The customer experience is another area in which a technology upgrade can help. Offering a consistent customer experience across channels starts by creating a single view of each customer’s transactions and preferences. For many restaurant chains, order data such as POS transactions and online click information is siloed, split between legacy POS systems and stand-alone ordering systems. This disconnect hampers identification or prediction of shifts in customer behavior. For example, many restaurants struggle to link a walk-in customer’s data with that individual’s digital ordering history, whether placed directly or through a third-party provider.
To attain a single view of the customer, operators should tie the guest’s identifier (loyalty number, phone number or credit card, for example) that resides in the customer relationship management (CRM) system with their POS and ordering systems. The restaurant industry can learn a great deal from the progress of retailers in creating a unified view; our clients have learned that ensuring data privacy and “gamifying” the process with incentives are among the best ways to persuade consumers to share their information.
Additional customer data will help restaurants better forecast demand by channel and menu needs, which will in turn trigger more advanced preparations, such as thawing frozen meat or dough ahead of anticipated demand. There’s a spinoff benefit here, too; wastage will drop, especially for highly perishable products such as raw meats.
Mobile ordering capabilities
Other aspects of the customer experience have also shifted notably. More than ever, dine-in customers prefer to select items and pay via their own devices rather than handle paper menus and use traditional card payment systems. Deploying a mobile ordering platform can not only serve this need, but can also increase average check size. One of our restaurant clients increased their average transaction size by 10% to 15% after we helped them deploy a mobile solution that captures valuable data, allowing the operator to more fully understand customers’ purchasing patterns and preferences. This is another reason for operators to ensure that all prices and menu items are updated in real time across all locations, using integration platforms like those noted above if necessary.