Digital ordering capabilities have become table stakes for the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With thousands of dining rooms shuttered or constrained to a fraction of their capacities, many operators have battled to remain viable by offering their menus for off-premise consumption, and they are often relying on digital ordering platforms to do so.
“In the current scenario, digital and touchless have become much more important,” said Samya Ghosh, VP of digital services at Tavant, during a recent webinar that Tavant sponsored called Elevating the Digital Experience Through Digital and Touchless.
The expansion of curbside pickup, takeout and delivery capabilities has been “the salvation of the industry on the full-service side,” added Peter Romeo, editor at large at Restaurant Business and moderator of the panel.
For operators that had not yet embraced digital ordering capabilities before the pandemic, the road ahead will be challenging, but manageable, with some carefully planned investments and a thoughtful, incremental approach, the webinar panelists said.
Operators must carefully consider the technology partners they work with to ensure that they align with the restaurant’s brand, that they can help achieve the desired outcomes in terms of customer experience and that they can provide a return on investment in terms of incremental sales.
“Don’t just add technology for the sake of adding technology,” said Adam Karveller, VP of information technology at Newk’s Eatery, a 124-unit chain of fast-casual cafes.
Operators can build up their digital ordering capabilities in phases, panelists said, even if they have antiquated and disparate legacy systems among their stores.
Ghosh of Tavant said operators can get started on a digital journey with a small initial investment and build from there with a strategic plan that includes robust testing of new initiatives.
Operators first need to focus on mastering the very basics of digital ordering, which include capabilities such as communicating store hours, listing location and menu item availability and accepting payment in a way that minimizes contact between customers and store associates, he said. Perhaps most important of all, said Ghosh, is that restaurants need to ensure they are collecting data through their digital ordering platforms to inform additional functions such as marketing.
“Getting the data foundation in place is crucial for an enhanced digital experience,” he said.
Newk’s was already relatively far along on its digital-ordering journey when the pandemic hit, making it easier for the company to quickly roll out new innovations that helped provide customers with a safer and elevated experience, said Karveller.
Newk’s implemented a “personal kiosk” system in its stores, for example, that enabled customers to replicate the self-service kiosk experience on their smartphones in-store by scanning a QR code. Customers, he noted, have been reluctant to use what he described as “community hardware” such as ordering kiosks.
The pandemic has forced many customers, who previously had been on the fence about digital technologies, to get on board, Karveller said. Customers have been more receptive to the use of Apple Pay, for example.
Newk’s also added a geofencing feature to its curbside pickup service, which notifies the restaurant when a customer nears a location so that Newk’s associates can provide better service. This geolocation service includes the ability for two-way texting with customers, so that Newk’s can send a message to customers welcoming them and letting them know the status of their order.
Providing a high level of customer service is an important feature of the Newk’s brand that might otherwise be lost in the current environment, Karveller explained.
Retaining a restaurant brand’s personality in a digital-ordering environment can require some careful planning and creativity, panelists said.
For example, some fine-dining restaurants are offering partially prepared meals that customers finish at home, allowing families to recreate a high-end culinary experience in their own kitchens and dining rooms, Douglas said.
Among the most important considerations for operators transitioning to an off-premises model is the creation of the menu. It should be limited to items that are profitable and that can stand up to the rigors of delivery.
Operators have found that customers are more than happy to choose from a limited menu that makes it easy for them to decide what to order.
“We spend an incredible amount of time talking about menus with our clients,” said Douglas. “You don’t need to have unlimited customization [capabilities] for everybody.”
Delivery generates lower margins than either in-house dining or customer pick-up, he pointed out, and items that may have generated profits inside the restaurant can easily become money-losers when offered for delivery.
However, although the number of items may be reduced, care must be taken to ensure that each item is depicted enticingly with images and verbal descriptions, since servers will not be there to answer questions or make recommendations, Douglas said.
“Coming out of the pandemic, one of the lasting aftereffects is going to be smaller menus,” said Romeo. “It’s a lot more efficient, a lot easier to execute and the customer seems to appreciate that they don’t have to spend as much time deciding what they want.”
“The customer data ecosystem is an essential building block for enabling digital programs beyond table stakes. So, any digital program that aims to enhance customer loyalty and experience will require data as a foundation,” said Samya Ghosh, Tavant. “Keep the roadmap in mind but start small, don’t get daunted by every shiny object in the market”, concluded Samya.
Watch the full webinar here.
Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, Tavant is a digital products and solutions company, that specializes in Digital and Touchless Services. More and more clients are engaging Tavant for rapid, cloud-native software development, advanced analytics, systems integration, automated testing, and security in the Restaurant, Food, and Grocery sectors. For over two decades, Tavant has helped small, mid-sized, and Fortune 1000 clients address their technology challenges to drive revenue growth and enhance the overall customer experience.
For questions and inquiries regarding Tavant’s digital offerings, please reach out to Samya Ghosh at email@example.com.
This post is sponsored by Tavant