Since the onset of COVID-19, restaurants went “all in" with online and mobile ordering as well as other ways to reduce friction with customers, including delivery, curbside pick-up, kiosks and more. The idea is to make it easy for customers to place orders through a variety of methods and in a way that reduces or eliminates contact between customers and employees.
Many of these efforts, especially for quick-serve restaurants, are aimed at getting customers their food faster. In that game, seconds count – big time.
In 2020, the average time to get an order from one of the 10 largest fast-food U.S. QSR chains was just under six minutes, about 30 seconds slower than 2019, according to a report from market researcher SeeLevel HX. The firm estimates those 30 seconds costs each restaurant that serves food throughout the day more than $32,000 per year, meaning millions per year for franchises and their franchisees. The reduced performance was the result of the pandemic sending consumers flocking to drive-thrus rather than eat-in restaurants, SeeLevel HX CEO Lisa Van Kesteren told Bloomberg.
Here are some tips for restaurants to eliminate friction throughout the customer experience to improve service and earn repeat customers.
Mobile order-ahead, whether through a loyalty app or website, is an effective remedy. It results in wait times up to 2.4 times shorter than in-store ordering, according to a study from Rakuten Ready, a location-centric mobile commerce platform.
The more a restaurant can encourage customers to use mobile apps, the more customers it will be able to serve during its busiest times. Online ordering will also reduce the amount of time employees spend handling take-out orders over the phone or in person. (Of course restaurants will still want to maintain ample phone lines for customers that prefer to order that way.)
To ensure success, make sure your mobile ordering platform is easy to find on your website and social media channels. Look for one that also integrates well with your point-of-sale system (POS) as well as your website. Some POS systems come with features such as online ordering, a loyalty rewards program and inventory management all pre-integrated.
Making it easy for customers to re-order by saving credit card information, past orders and loyalty program numbers can also reduce friction. Offering special offers for repeat customers can also increase engagement, which is another crucial aspect of garnering repeat visits.
Keep in mind online ordering can also extend to drive-thru lanes. Indeed, in 2019 some restaurants began building drive-thrus that allowed customers to place orders through a mobile app or website – a decision that seemed especially prescient once the pandemic hit.
To reduce friction for online orders picked up inside the restaurant, create a separate pickup area, so online customers don’t have to get in the same line as walk-ins. Some have found that strategy also increases the number of online orders.
Delivering food to customers may be the ultimate way to reduce friction and, since the pandemic, food delivery has taken off. For evidence of that, look no further than DoorDash, which went public on Dec. 9 at $109 per share. The stock closed that afternoon at $187.20, an increase of 83.5%, a vote of confidence in a company that turned its first (slim) profit in the third quarter of 2020.
While restaurants may have a love/hate relationship with delivery services like DoorDash, given the chunk of revenue they extract from each sale, it’s clear that customers relish them amid the pandemic. For restaurants that want to limit the hit, offering the opportunity for customers to place orders directly with the restaurant for curbside pickup is a good alternative.
Strategies for reducing friction in sit-down restaurants include in-house online ordering, whether using a tablet on the table or a customer’s own device. It’s a simple matter for a customer to scan a QR code with their device and be taken to an online menu.
Restaurants can further reduce friction by using order-to-table applications, which let customers order and pay for their meals without interacting with waitstaff. Such applications enable customers to add additional items and pay for each as they go or run a digital tab and pay when they’re done. Another benefit: restaurants can get by with fewer staff.
Digital menu boards that keep customers up to speed on any specials can also reduce friction, as do kiosks that enable customers to place their own orders.
As mentioned above, a good POS system that supports integration with myriad other apps is crucial. Increasingly, restaurants are opting for a cloud-based POS, which lowers the up-front capital expense and relieves the restaurant from worrying about constant updates.
Any cloud-based application, of course, means ensuring you have fast, reliable internet bandwidth available. That’s also important to support guest and staff WiFi connectivity, which is important for those online apps and all other internal communications.
Having an adequate number of phone lines on hand is likewise a good idea. Even if you do your best to drive customers to order online, some segment will always want to call for reservations or takeout orders. The risk of losing a sale because a customer couldn’t get through is not worth saving a few dollars per month on an extra phone line.
Finally, security should be top of mind for any business, and restaurants are certainly no exception. Measures such as firewalls and antivirus software need to be in place to protect your internet connection, WiFi network and more from various cyber threats.
The good news about all of these measures is they can serve you well even after the pandemic is behind us because improving customer experience will always help boost your business.