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Confessions of a takeout addict

Technology and to-go shake up the restaurant experience for millennials.
takeout boxes couple floor

Attention, dining room hosts and fast-food cashiers: I’m your worst nightmare. I have zero interest in small talk, I am automatically going to reply “fine” when you ask how I’m doing and there’s a chance I’ll be tapping on my phone throughout our exchange. Because, hey, I’m a millennial, so I don’t feel the need for much interaction.

Number crunchers, on the other hand, love me—even if they don’t quite understand me. I actively help drive sales, without taking up table space. In other words, I eat out a lot, but rarely does that actually mean going into a restaurant, ordering from a person and sitting at a table to eat. Confession: I am a to-go addict.

What that does mean for operators is that I’d rather order with my fingers than eat with a fork. Whether it’s through desktop ordering, an app, a kiosk or a third-party delivery service’s platform, I can and will avoid talking to a person. So here’s the question that seems to be both perplexing and scary for restaurateurs: If staff aren’t talking to me, how can they deliver hospitality and create an “experience” (that buzzword that researchers are saying all millennials want)?

While I’ve been told more than once that millennials are annoying, get used to those alternative depictions in this column. My age group is making waves, and we’ve got buying power. So how is the dining experience changing, and what can you do to land the business of takeout-loving pains like me?

First, while it may not be traditional dining out, operators can do small things to enhance the takeout experience. Maybe it’s experimenting with different packaging to make sure that it a) keeps food at the proper temperature and b) is consistent with brand image. Or maybe it’s making sure to include silverware in the bag (it’s shocking how often these aren’t included). For me, and many of my peers, takeout is all about finding the easy solution. I’m not ordering out to treat myself, but rather to nourish myself in the most convenient way possible.

Second, even though there’s a lot of tech involved, don’t pretend that there’s no communication—it’s just digital. Think of your ordering platform as your virtual employee. So many operators focus on building these super cool, really smart ordering apps. But in reality, consumers just want an app or online program that’s intuitive, eases the process and offers them free stuff when they are loyal guests. That’s the staffer your customers are dealing with the most.

Still, whether it’s through pickup or delivery, there is that interaction with the host, cashier or deliverer. So how can operators train staff to deliver hospitality in the five seconds when a guest says their name and the staffer grabs the bag of food on a nearby shelf to hand over? That might mean a new training program, with specific emphasis on delivery-focused touchpoints. Because with such a short time to make an impression, facial expressions, initial greetings and whether or not the staffer looks hurried make a big impact.

That’s my take on your world and how it’s changing to meet the wants of a different demographic, but you’re the prime source on the matter. I may not like in-store restaurant interaction, but I love hearing from you and what you’d like us to cover—so feel free to shoot me an email at swirth@winsightmedia.com. And please, keep the millennial bashing to a minimum.

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