— By Eric Symon —
Keeping restaurants connected to enhance the customer experience.
One of the biggest challenges that restaurant owners face is implementing technological advancements to stay current with customer demands. According to a recent survey conducted by Panasonic, 100% of foodservice operators found that the COVID-19 pandemic intensified their sense of urgency to adopt transformational technology. As the industry experiences challenges with labor and an increase in customer preferences for touchless options, adopting such technologies is even more important.
Additionally, today’s customer has new priorities whether dining out or ordering takeout. Restaurant owners are seeing customer demands growing for enhanced, digital experiences that create an efficient and personalized interaction. Whether upgrading older systems or implementing emerging technologies for the first time, investing in the latest technology will enhance the agility of a restaurant, helping it adapt to changing customer preferences and demands.
What forms of technology can be implemented in a restaurant to help drive customer loyalty?
Digital Menu Boards
Digital signage is the most effective option for restaurant owners to create digital menus that provide flexibility and efficiencies. It provides a large-scale, contactless way of sharing information with customers. According to the FDA’s menu labeling requirements, restaurants and similar food retail establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations must disclose the number of calories contained in standard items on menu boards. However, as menu items are consistently changing, especially amidst the pandemic when food supplies have been less consistent, restaurant managers need technology to enable a swift change in the information displayed to its customers.
The capabilities of digital signage are quite extensive. For restaurants to provide a personalized experience for customers, businesses are incorporating interactive, visually immersive signage. Customers can clearly see daily menu offerings, including price promotions, ingredients, etc., with bright, crisp visuals. This solution also makes it easy for employees to make ad hoc updates throughout the day like switching from breakfast to lunch menus rather than manually turning signs over a static menu. Additionally, employees have the option to promote specific menu items based on that day. For example, if it is a particularly warm day, employees can promote iced tea or milkshakes.
Self-service kiosks not only deliver a personalized customer experience by decreasing order time and increasing customer throughput, but they also allow restaurants to focus on other customer service activities, such as checking on customers in the dining area. For repeat customers, kiosks can recognize the customer and offer to repeat their recent orders through opt-in facial recognition, which decreases kiosk touchpoints. Additionally, with self-order and payment technologies, restaurant owners empower their customers to order from either their own device or contactless devices in-store. With the ordering power in the hands of the consumer, businesses tend to see an increase of average check size, as there is no pressure to be quick with a front-of-house staff member.
Over the last year, food pickup and delivery options gained popularity. For restaurants and QSRs, solutions such as smart food lockers enable a seamless mobile ordering and pickup experience without direct contact with restaurant staff. This eliminates any bottleneck in dine-in or counter-service operations. Food lockers can house customers’ orders in a safe, secure and even temperature-controlled space and eliminate order mixed-ups. When orders are ready, employees place the food in the food locker for customers to retrieve with a corresponding order code sent to their smartphone, further enabling a quick and contactless experience.
Deploying line-busting technologies, such as rugged tablets and handheld devices, is the route many restaurants are taking to maintain the speed of service, improve throughput at peak times, all while ensuring an optimal employee-customer experience. These devices allow employees to turn their devices into mobile POS terminals by integrating the devices with barcode scanners and payment sleds. In a drive-thru setting, an employee can visit the customer’s car to take an order instead of having them wait in line. This not only improves the drive-thru experience, but also offers a contactless option without sacrificing the personal touch many consumers crave right now. In addition to rugged mobile devices, utilizing updated audio systems such as noise-canceling headsets and microphones allows employees to easily capture customers’ orders.
Lastly, data is essential for restaurants. With back-office analytics, organizations get real-time data that provides key insights into peak hours of operation, employee schedules and foot traffic. Aside from implementing customer-facing technologies, back-office solutions and analytics are becoming increasingly important. Access to real-time data allows for better collaboration and immediate decision-making, which improves profitability. For instance, automation solutions help streamline operations with seamless communication among departments and control and assign tasks from a single dashboard.
Utilizing the latest technologies, foodservice operators can improve customer confidence, enabling them to take full advantage of strong pent-up demand for the dining experience. By implementing solutions such as kiosks, smart food lockers and digital signage, restaurant owners are offering customers more control of their experience, helping them choose the path that best matches their comfort level, while contributing to a happy and satisfied customer.
— Eric Symon is the vice president of the Enterprise Process Innovation Center at Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America. He drives global teams to increase growth of businesses in the QSR, food services, retail and manufacturing markets.