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Focus on the digital experience to meet consumer demand

Photograph: Shutterstock

This past year has been devastating for many in the foodservice industry, but it has also been transformational in its acceleration of technology trends that will redefine restaurant operations forever.

A December 2020 survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 53% of adults said purchasing takeout food was essential to the way they work and live. It means offering off-premise dining has become table stakes for operators, and the winners will be those that can provide the types of experiences their guests demand.

For many restaurant operators, the sudden surge in demand for takeout and delivery in 2020 forced them to rapidly build up their capabilities in that space. This meant rethinking store operations and layouts, forging new partnerships with third-party delivery firms, and investing in new technologies. The National Restaurant Association found that roughly half of full-service, fast-casual, and coffee and snack operators said they devoted more resources to technology since the pandemic began last March, including online or in-app ordering, mobile payment, and delivery management.

The way meals are experienced has changed,” said Ryan Volberg, Senior VP and General Manager of PAR Technology’s Restaurant Solutions Group, which offers the industry’s leading point of sale platform to help restaurants drive on- and off-premises sales.

Initially, he said, consumers were willing to sacrifice food quality and the dining experience for safety. Service became slower and consumers adjusted to new barriers they had to navigate, such as scanning QR codes to see menus, downloading new apps, and curb-side operations—many of which were hastily implemented and often confusing

“Consumers rolled with it because they and the restaurant brands they loved were in it together,” said Volberg. “Everyone was in new territory, doing their best. Simply put, expectations were very low.”

As the pandemic subsides, he said, this will change. Consumers will expect a return to exceptional quality and service and will not tolerate excuses for brands that don’t respond quickly. They will also have developed some new digital preferences and will expect the best of the pre- and post-pandemic experiences – in particular, digital ordering.

One key to the successful implementation of digital ordering strategies is for operators to carefully consider how they want guests to experience it, Volberg said.

“In designing a digital guest experience, I would always trade off extra functionality for ease of use,” he said. “For example, requiring a consumer to download your app, set up a profile, add a credit card, etc., is a high-effort proposition.”

Instead, incorporating existing platforms such as ApplePay and using web-based apps that offer high functionality without the need for a download can remove these barriers, he said.

“Above all, obsess over the guest experience, not the technology,” said Volberg. “This is a common mistake—to focus on the features of a digital ordering platform and make a decision based on most features for the best price.”

Instead, operators should “obsess over every step” of the customer experience, from ensuring the first use is enjoyable—“how easy, and dare I say, ‘delightful’ can you make the first use so that you hook them?” Volberg said—to focusing on how repeat users will gain incremental value from the system the more they use it.

“Once you have exhausted yourself on what you want the end-to-end experience to be for your customers, only then should you go shopping for the technology that meets your needs,” he said.

Operators also need to understand the demographics and needs of their customer base, Volberg said.

“A 16-year-old TikTok’er has different expectations of ordering digitally from your brand than a 45-year-old does,” he said.

“Above all, don’t be afraid to innovate and take chances,” Volberg concluded. “At PAR, we believe the time for restaurant brands to weaponize technology is here.”

Check out PAR’s digital toolkit to learn how to innovate everywhere, from the kitchen to the mobile device, to meet the demands of today’s consumers in a rapidly evolving competitive environment.

This post is sponsored by PAR™

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