Diners have expressed their desire to get back to normal, but what if our new normal is a leap forward?
Disruption has taken different forms throughout the years. 9/11 forever changed flying, the smart phone drastically shifted how people connect, and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft forever changed transportation. As the world evolves, society adapts, never fully returning to how it operated before.
Overnight, many businesses such as corporate offices, in-store retailers, and most of all restaurants, changed how they operate. Employees have lost their workplace but gained an hour of sleep. Diners are anxiously awaiting to dine without a mask, but will they look forward to long wait times at popular spots? While there are still some things we dearly miss, it’s safe to say there are aspects of the past we can gladly leave behind.
Contactless solutions such as Chick-fil-A curbside pick up and Beatrix mobile ordering have increased diners’ expectations for a seamless and highly touchless experience. Michelle, 25-year old from Grand Rapids, MI, said she hoped contactless payment would continue even after the pandemic is past. “I didn’t have to put any personal information in. I was able to scan my card with my phone. It was quicker than if I were to give my card to the waitress. I hope they continue to offer that because it made it so easy to check out.”
Similar to Michelle, Sarah, a 34-year old from Los Angeles, CA, was impressed with her experience using Shake Shack’s mobile ordering platform. She said the experience was effortless and could tell Shake Shack has implemented new solutions during the pandemic that provides a better customer experience. “I think honestly Shake Shack is more on their game than before the whole pandemic situation,” said Sarah.
Today, contactless solutions are more common in off-premise dining, but these solutions are beginning to trickle into the dine-in experience. Suppliers such as Toast, Clover, and Carefree are providing new touch-free payment technologies, while digital menus are being introduced from Paytronix and Breeze.
Imagine it’s a Friday night and a group of friends is coming into the restaurant. They are celebrating a birthday and know things might get a little loud, so the party host pulls out their phone to choose a specific table on the restaurant’s app ahead of time. The group locks in a table in the back to avoid bothering other guests. This eliminates the group questioning if they will be able to all sit together or be too close to other guests. Selecting the table provides the group comfort before arriving at the restaurant that their dinner will be perfect.
A few hours before the reservation, the group receives a notification to begin their order. Instead of dealing with the distracting ordering process when they first sit down, the restaurant allows diners to pre-order drinks and starters, saving them from the inevitable back and forth with the restaurant staff. Their menu selections will be ready when they arrive.
On the evening of the birthday dinner, the group receives text notifications about their reservation and directions on how to head straight to their table, bypassing the line at the hostess stand. Shifting these in-the-moment decisions to choices made in advance allows guests to be present, feel comfortable when they arrive, and focus on why they are there: to have quality time with friends.
This planned experience helps operators prepare more thoroughly for the table, collect the diner’s payment up front, and limit the amount of staff interaction. The staff can focus more on ensuring the group is having an overall great customer experience and less on the exact details of their order.
By providing diners the ability to think about and create their order ahead of time, the restaurant can have an opportunity to upsell additional items that diners wouldn’t consider in-the-moment. Today, high-end restaurants like Alinea and Elske in Chicago, IL are starting to lay the groundwork for pre-ordering through their deposits for pre-fixe experiences. This pre-planning ensures no cancellations so the restaurants can run as efficiently as possible. Now, more casual restaurants are taking cues from this strategy.
Imagine a happy hour has evolved into dinner, the guests have been drinking, the bar is crowded, staff is overworked, and the group needs appetizers, stat. Someone snaps a QR code on the table, digitally creates a tab, and orders nachos for the table. Five minutes later when another member of the group demands fries, they’re automatically logged in and can order with just one click. Instead of flagging down a waitress, someone runs to grab their food from the walk-up window where mobile orders are organized. This digital experience gives diners the option of control that many are looking for.
A process familiar in quick-serve restaurants like Sweetgreen or Chipotle, mobile ordering can be utilized to optimize service in crowded bars and understaffed restaurants. A fast-casual dumpling restaurant, Wowbao, has implemented Eatsa technology to provide automated cubbies for pickup, with no human contact. Tim Young, the CEO of Eatsa claims this technology has “enabled us to get meals to customers in 90 seconds versus the industry average of five minutes or more.”
This experience gets diners what they want when they want it but also frees up restaurant staff to be used in a more efficient way. Servers can focus beyond standard transactions and offer higher quality service to a larger number of tables, suggesting crowd pleasing dishes, crafting a unique made-to-order mocktail, while also ensuring there are no errors with the touchless ordering. They can do a lot less running from table to table, creating faster table turnover, and higher profitability.
Imagine it’s the end of a date. Dessert just wrapped up and all that is left is paying for the bill. Rather than waiting for the staff to bring over a check, one guest pulls up the restaurant’s mobile app, where their credit card is stored, to pay the bill. The diners want to split the tab and can easily divide their orders with the app, without any mental math. The diners are able to leave the restaurant and avoid the annoying aspects of flagging down a server, awkwardly waiting in silence, and engaging in a scuffle over splitting the bill.
This process is a benefit to operators as well. Research shows diners tip more when automatically prompted to do so. The CEO of Flypay, a digital pay-at-table app in the UK, Tom Weaver claims that the ease of paying, combined with the fact that using a smartphone doesn’t feel like “real money” is one of the main drivers behind the rise of tips.
Digitizing the payment process provides a seamless customer checkout experience and opens the door for new payment models such as prepayment, automated gratuity, and surcharges for employee healthcare or equitable pay. These new models can help restaurants differentiate themselves and stand out to consumers. For example, by utilizing automatic payments, restaurants can collect diner data, track habits and behaviors, and create personalized offerings. Starbucks was so successful with its digital payments strategy and loyalty program in 2015,
that consumers regularly choose Starbucks locations over other coffee shops for convenience and ease.
These experiences aren’t far off for any restaurant, but money is tight. Before investing in a technology solution, consider low effort, cost-effective ways to evaluate if the experience is right for the restaurant. Testing could look like a handful of things. For example, dine-in pre-orders could be tested by a restaurant emailing a handful of diners with reservations to ask if they would like to order drinks or appetizers prior to arriving.
Exploring and testing creative solutions is the best way to identify if these contactless experiences are right for a restaurant. Once the confidence is there, explore technology companies to partner with who can help deliver on this experience.
Tock allows restaurants to offer prepaid experiences like tasting menus, reservations with deposits, and other events, reducing no-shows to 1%.
Tablee provides restaurants with a button for the table and smart watch technology for staff, to enhance the guest experience and make staff more efficient.
Sociavore allows restaurants to build their own websites and now offers contactless menu viewing, in-restaurant online ordering, and contactless payment.
For a comprehensive list of technology solutions to help you create convenient, contactless experiences, visit BackofHouse.
This content is powered by Relish Works.
Relish Works is a team of innovators, strategists, designers, and investors focused on building solutions to the food industry’s most pressing challenges.
This summer, our research team got a sneak peek into the habits of 28 diners to understand how COVID-19 is impacting their dining out behavior. Our research findings inspired this article to provide restaurants with insight into diners’ expectations and innovative ways to enhance their restaurant experience during and after COVID-19.