By Laurent May & Alen Puaca
The COVID-19 pandemic, as brutal as it has been for the restaurant industry, has given us a chance to reassess how we can interact with our customers and take bold steps to create new dining experiences. Thinking about returning to traditional dining is, in some ways, like watching an old movie— it’s nostalgic, but you’re subconsciously identifying all the things during that era that seem to be backwards or simply unpleasant.
Since the start of the pandemic, consumer habits towards online shopping have accelerated, and there is no longer a hesitation to adopt new technologies, payment systems, or digital experiences. Instead, consumers are now more comfortable controlling their experience with how and when they make purchases. And we’re seeing this trend make its way into the dining experience.
Technology is the driver, servers are your guide
Every restaurant owner knows that staff can make or break a great evening out. There’s a lot of pressure for staff to knock every aspect of the dining experience out of the park in order to uphold the reputation of the restaurant and strengthen customer loyalty.
One of the biggest challenges for servers is simply that they are being spread too thin. They are rushing from table to table, and their attention and focus is pulled in a million directions, making it nearly impossible to create a connection with their customers.
In pre-COVID-19 times, when technology was introduced to the dining experience, the adoption rate was low. Customers preferred to stick with what they knew and order directly from the server, flag them for a drink, get their meal, wait for the cheque, pay, and leave.
However, as restaurants heightened health and safety measures for staff and customers, technology was the clear solution. This caused an industry-wide shift toward integrating technology that customers could easily adopt and, as we saw, quickly came to expect. Scanning a QR code to view a digital menu, order, and pay for the cheque has been widely and positively received by customers.
Now comes the fun part.
When that technology goes a step further and is fully integrated into the restaurant ecosystem, customers can view a digital menu, directly order from the menu, sending the order directly to the kitchen, and pay their bill, all through their phone. This means, when the order is up, the server can deliver the items, giving time and energy back to the server and allowing them to be a true guide in their customer’s dining experience.
By essentially putting the power into the hands of guests, technology creates both a complete self-service contactless option and what is a newer and less common ‘co-pilot’ experience.
Time for co-pilots to take control
This new tech is not being designed to fully overtake the ordering and paying process. Rather, its purpose is to augment restaurant flows, preserve meaningful guest/server interactions, improve efficiencies, and speed up the customer touchpoints like ordering and paying when needed.
Once restaurants start thinking about these more flexible dining experiences, significant opportunities emerge to be very contextual and specific about offering or reminding guests about additional services. Right after a successful self-payment experience occurs, restaurant tech can create a micro-moment to ask guests to rate their experience in the same interface. If done right, relevant data can be collected that explains why the guest has ordered as much, tipped as much, or if they are planning on returning to the restaurant. Now we can gather operational data in terms of what is sold — like we would with POS transactions — but also experiential data in terms of why they are sold. For servers, managers, and HQ, this is great feedback for further improvements of their offerings.
Another opportunity is offering loyalty points directly to the consumer while they are ordering. By integrating perks and incentives in real-time, order sizes and cheque sizes increase. Or, once a menu item is being reviewed, in that micro-moment the up-sell items can be presented as a “goes well with” item. These opportunities provide a more personalized and enhanced customer experience.
Restaurant concierges are ready to take off
In order for restaurants to be set up for success, they need to understand the fundamental value of being surrounded by other people, creating conversations, and developing atmospheres with unique textures, sounds, aromas, and tastes. Each one of those factors is deeply interconnected to produce our very own experience. By enabling customers to take control of their experience through technology, servers are gradually becoming “concierges” of restaurants. With the dining room floor being re-engineered with guests co-piloting the meal, servers can spend their time on the floor rather than being in a frenzied rush. This enables servers to focus on delivering an exceptional guest experience, elevating their role within the business and the industry overall.
As vaccines roll out and restrictions lift, customers will return to their favourite neighbourhood restaurants. The shift to a technology-backed, experience-based restaurant industry will mark a true step forward for the industry and the connection to people is where restaurants will find success.
Laurent May is Head of Ready, a fully integrated mobile self-ordering, payment, and loyalty technology solution that’s defining the next generation of hospitality venues. He has over 20 years of product management expertise in the electronic payments space leading high-performance teams.
Alen Puaca is Design Director at Ready. In the past 25 years, he has worked on designs for virtual, online, and physical spaces from EXPO pavilions, theme parks, museums, and Olympics. At Ready, he is focused on the experiences that software can provide to enhance spaces within the hospitality domain.