Innovate and thrive
All types of restaurants, whether quick-service establishments or casual dining, are facing multiple challenges across the industry landscape. Technology is no longer a back-of-house requirement—it is a game-changer for restaurants to stay relevant to their customers and in their industry.
Competition is fierce and consumer expectations continue to evolve. In such a competitive market, it’s crucial that restaurants understand consumers’ expectations when it comes to healthy lifestyles, community engagement, sustainability and brand loyalty. Technology expectations are ever changing as well, driving digital transformation initiatives across many restaurant brands. Whether it’s WiFi access, ease of ordering, mobile payment, loyalty programs, or anytime eating, embracing technology is no longer optional when reaching tech savvy consumers.
But with all the innovations and new tech tools, it can feel impossible to keep up. Many who have succeeded for decades need to understand how to appeal to a new demographic that is always-on-the-go, tech savvy and can quickly shift their brand loyalty. Here are some considerations for restaurants to adopt that can drive loyalty and a consistent brand image, to ensure that they innovate and continue to entice customers.
Restaurant owners can use data analytics software to gain customer insight around dining trends, peak serving times and popular products and, in turn, market directly to them. Restaurateurs can cater email or mobile re-engagement programs, targeting customers with exclusive discounts, LTOs and promotions, possibly based upon their previous favorite items. In addition, analytics allows restaurant owners to make data-driven decisions and more accurately fill staffing needs and inventory levels.
WiFi is expected among most restaurant customers today. According to a University of South Florida study, 70 percent of survey respondents said they preferred bars and restaurants with WiFi hotspots. WiFi is crucial not only for patron web surfing, but also for growth – especially considering many technologies depend on fast and reliable internet. Keep in mind you need the right amount of bandwidth to meet the broad technology requirements of today’s consumer. It is imperative to look for reliable, secure connectivity and WiFi that can support new technologies.
While WiFi and bandwidth are critical for customer experiences, it extends to employees as well. The ability to provide real time access to training, download technology updates for equipment more quickly and provide real time access to data is crucial.
Loyalty Program Applications
It’s never been easier to understand customer behavior than it is today. Loyalty program applications enable restaurant owners to understand patrons’ meal preferences, offer rewards tied to their specific purchase habits, highlight special offers, and can even be utilized to serve up content. Some loyalty programs provide ordering and payments options, creating stickiness with your brand. This is an especially important tactic for restaurants to engage their customers with special deals and content that caters directly to their tastes—this will help foster a long-term relationship in which the patron becomes “connected” to that establishment.
According to a 2016 Zagat study, the biggest complaint among patrons nationally was poor service. Some restaurants have equipped tables with tablets that give customers the convenience of ordering quickly, without flagging wait staff, ordering refills, and even paying the bill when they are ready. This frees up servers and allows them to spend more time engaging with customers, rather than doing time-consuming tasks like running back and forth from the kitchen to guests for order placement. Additionally, many staff now carry mobile point-of-sale devices that enable them to swipe credit cards to pay instantly, resulting in faster service, less stress for waiters and waitresses, and quicker turnover of customers.
Digital Menu Innovations
We live in the Information Age, where the answer to almost any question can be found on a device in the palm of your hand. Luckily, technology has found a way to apply that to the culinary industry too. Today, menus can be upgraded to include QR (quick response) codes that provide nutrition facts or suggest wine pairings.
Interactive, self-serve menu kiosks are popping up in many quick serve restaurants, enabling a more efficient way to order and pay. These kiosks can reduce wait times and have been shown to improve order accuracy. As technology continues to evolve these kiosks will become “smart” and recognize the consumer, offering up customized menus based on individual preferences.
Digital signage continues to evolve, enabling restaurants to quickly customize and react to changing customer expectations. The cost of digital signage has dropped significantly while the creative use cases for digital signage have dramatically increased. No longer do they provide just menu items – they are now an extension of your brand and messaging platform.
Online ordering for curbside take-out or delivery through services like Uber Eats is changing the paradigm of how we eat—at home versus takeout versus in the restaurant. In addition, new innovations in online ordering for in-restaurant meals are making service faster and more personalized. This technology not only reduces wait times, but also allows restaurants to serve more patrons with fewer employees. This changes employee staffing dynamics and helps optimize the restaurant’s profitability.
Accessibility is key when it comes to information access and workflow. The ability to access important documents, files or even play music, via desktop, laptop, phone or tablet is a necessity in our interconnected world. Cloud-based applications make that happen. They allow information to be stored remotely and accessed over the internet, rather than in a local server on premise. This means less IT equipment is needed on-site, which reduces maintenance and costs. It also makes it easier for employees to share information.
In addition to cloud-based applications, restaurants can also benefit from cloud-based voice solutions. Cloud-based unified communications offer a plethora of advantages: seamless call transfers, virtual phone numbers, and the ability to take calls from any device. Such features increase the mobility, availability and productivity of employees, and customers get better service.
Just as the world keeps spinning, technology keeps changing. In addition to helping restaurants run more efficiently, it’s also a critical tool in this digitalized environment for restaurants to attract, engage and retain customers with special offerings that cater directly to their preferences. This, in turn, establishes brand loyalty and corresponding behaviors, including positive word of mouth. However, those who don’t see how traditional meal boundaries have changed nor understand the impact of technology for their business will quickly lose their place as leaders in the industry—and potentially worse—will end up becoming irrelevant.
This article originally appeared on FSR Magazine.