— By Rob Tedesco —
The next digital frontier for restaurants.
Brands have spent the past few years adapting to a digital-first mindset. They’ve reoriented their businesses toward programs like online ordering, invested in their tech stacks and started gathering first-party customer data
But as the paradigm now truly shifts, and “outside the four walls” matters more, what’s missing from brands’ digital roadmaps? What will be the next major leaps in restaurant technology and digital guest experiences? Here, we discuss four ways in which digital tools help restaurants improve accuracy, efficiency, revenue management and customer service — all key horizons as brands continue their digital transformation.
Digital can improve order accuracy for online orders
Sixty-five percent of 1-star restaurant app reviews originate from customers who didn’t get what they wanted; what can restaurants do to bridge this gap?
Brands can solve the problem of accuracy in digital orders in several ways. First, consider modernizing kitchen display systems to deliver visual or symbolic instructions, so that staff members can rapidly prepare food with accuracy regardless of language or background. Brands also have an incredible opportunity to extend the food preparation and customization experience into the digital domain in new and impactful ways: for example, providing digital orderers with an opportunity to confirm the accuracy of an order before it is handed to a courier, such as by reviewing a picture of the order inside a mobile app and giving it a “thumbs up.”
Break down the walls between digital and on-premise guests
As dine-in regains steam and a hybrid dining model emerges, brands must extend digital experiences to touchpoints which were previously “non-digital.” Experiences such as self-service kiosks are a great example of this: they can provide safe, easy ordering points that increase accuracy, lift check averages and invite more customers into a restaurant’s digital database. Other capabilities are emerging that empower staff to treat on-premise guests with more digital support, such as technologies that provide digital customer data to hostess stands, digital waitlists that help on-premise guests spend less time waiting, and technologies that allow guests to order ahead before dining in. In short, the power of digital needn’t only be brought to guests who order online for carryout or delivery; brands are finding ways to engage and enlist customers into their digital ecosystems in on-premise contexts, too.
Revenue and capacity management
The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly shifted customer demand toward digital ordering channels. Now, as brands emerge, they find themselves needing to balance demand from a variety of channels, whether online orders, curbside pickup, the drive-thru window or dine-in. Customer demand will always be a moving target, and balancing that demand presents unique challenges and opportunities for operators.
The digital ecosystem provides untapped potential in this area. It’s likely that we see brands experiment more with strategies for driving off-peak business, such as by incentivizing guests to order during softer periods of business through loyalty or CRM campaigns. This can extend to shape demand by channel, such as by changing pricing or discounting logic in real-time to steer guests away from busier channels (e.g., drive-thru) and toward those with more capacity (e.g., delivery). Capacity can also be balanced system-wide, by fulfilling delivery orders from locations that are less busy. Ultimately, digital ordering platforms can also help brands revenue-manage their products by promoting or pricing menu items dynamically based on yield, daypart, capacity or other factors. Digital represents a huge unlock in this area, and we’re only seeing the beginning of it.
Personalized experiences (not just personalized messaging)
As the trove of first-party data pours in, brands are actively seeking ways to segment customers and send them the right emails or the right push notifications at the right time. This is a great step toward driving frequency and customer lifetime value (LTV), and many brands have invested in their MarTech stacks (CDPs like mParticle; marketing automation solutions like Braze; loyalty platforms like Punchh or Paytronix) to help drive relevant messaging. The next frontier is the experience itself.
For a food ordering or convenience store app, the features and functionality that matter to on-premise diners who have not yet placed an order (in which case, they want to order food) are very different than the ones that matter to guests who are on-premise, but have already placed an order (in which case, they typically want to check-in, scan for loyalty points, etc.). Brands can do a much better job of adapting experiences dynamically to account for these patterns, instead of serving the same experience to everyone all the time.
The food ordering app of the future can make much smarter, better-educated guesses about what consumers want, putting product recommendations, features and options front-and-center in ways that adapt automatically for the digital user’s need state (current location, order status, etc.). It’s a bright horizon, and one that emphasizes the need for brands to continue harvesting first-party data, which will help drive the hyper-personalized experiences of the future.
— Rob Tedesco is vice president of product management at Bounteous, a digital growth partner to restaurant and convenience store brands including Wingstop, Panda Express, Wawa and others. Previously, he was vice president of digital and consumer technology at Subway, where he helped lead the world’s largest restaurant brand through a digital transformation.