We’re in the midst of a never-before-seen wave of digital acceleration across almost every type of business. This is especially true for the food and beverage industry. The pandemic ushered in an unprecedented acceleration in digital transformation for restaurants — dramatically changing operations and customer service, probably forever. The increased customer need for contactless transactions brought with it more online ordering, customer-facing apps, and QR-code menus.
The brands that were successful in quickly rolling out new innovations and meeting changing customer demands had one thing in common: They already had standardized networks and strong digital foundations in place, allowing them to easily launch and scale new products and applications across many locations. Their existing digital foundation provided the agility to quickly provide customers and employees with unified and cohesive experiences through digital POS and ordering systems. And in order to provide consistent service, restaurants needed reliable, resilient, high-speed networks that spanned entire brands — leveraging local and wide-area network connections to implement improvements at all locations simultaneously, through centralized network control.
Heavily focused digital operations and customer service is very much expected to continue according to Marybeth Pearce, Comcast Business Executive Director of Food & Beverage Enterprise Solutions. “Now that customers have had a taste of the digital future of dining, their expectations for digital dining experiences will continue to grow, regardless of the pandemic’s trajectory.”
This dramatic rise of digital commerce and innovations in operations and customer experience put new demands on network technology, with greater bandwidth and connectivity needs, increased reliance on cloud applications and point-of-sales systems, and the ability to scale tech solutions across locations efficiently.
It’s clear that customers prioritize contactless service: 48% report feeling safer when contactless service is available, according to IDC, preferring such options as contactless delivery, pickup, or payment. In order to meet this demand and offer improved customer service, restaurants are continuing to adopt new technology options such as digital menu boards that are easily updatable to reflect menu changes and provide the latest information on hours of operation, daily specials, and any changes in safety protocols. The continued growth of contactless engagement also includes digital interfaces to place orders via self-serve kiosks as well as drive-thru options like voice recognition and contactless pick-up improvements like digitally connected lockers.
Pearce says that these improvements are also providing new upsell opportunities for restaurants. “Through personalized menu boards, online ordering, and mobile apps, restaurants can learn customer preferences and serve them targeted suggestions, resulting in better experiences for the customer and additional revenue for the operator.”
That type of rich personalization and customer experience is of course underpinned by foundational technologies like business Internet and software-defined networking, internal and customer-facing WiFi networks, cellular failover, and security solutions to help keep transactions and data safe.
Consumer confidence in eating out will require adherence to high safety and cleanliness standards. Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be used to track supply chain items to reduce waste and ensure food temperatures are properly maintained and safety checks done on a regular basis. “Back-of-house digital technology can be used to deliver food faster and more efficiently,” said Pearce. “Through automation, orders can be easily managed when coming in from multiple channels, to multiple locations.”
Delivering on these varied technologies requires a strong, flexible IT infrastructure in each restaurant. Network hardware and software need to be kept up to date, with regular refreshes to support new functionality. Managed services can help restaurant operations run more smoothly, allowing restaurant owners and managers to focus on their customers and deliver a superior dining experience. Restaurants also need to ensure their network connectivity is robust enough to handle the increase in online orders and delivery schedules as well as touchless experiences.
The digital transformation for restaurants was pushed into overdrive throughout the last year and a half, and that acceleration doesn’t show any signs of abating. To be successful, restaurants need to roll out innovation quickly—and that means having a brand-level foundation that allows for agility and scalability.