How Restaurants Can Use Technology to Engage with Customers
With restaurant employment at 8% below pre-pandemic levels, thinking creatively to keep your kitchen busy and demand high is critical in the COVID-19 era. Happy customers equate to repeat business and positive reviews. Unsatisfied customers have little room for patience, unsympathetic to the challenges you are facing behind the scenes. After all, their bellies are empty.
It’s no wonder studies show 75% of restaurant operators said recruiting and retaining employees is their top challenge. What can you do to keep your tables turning and your customer experience top-notch across all channels?
Below is an in-depth look at how restaurants can leverage technology. We’ll walk you through how to engage with customers and increase brand visibility. Plus, what tools consumers are expecting you to use. In these challenging times, it’s essential to embrace food-tech to combat labor shortages, unpredictable supply chains, and other pandemic-related challenges. These emerging technologies are enhancing convenience and simplicity, ultimately helping both you and your customers.
Historically Low Restaurant Sales Create An Opportunity
The pandemic has had a profound impact on the American economy, and restaurant sales are no exception. As of August 2021, restaurant sales remain down by 110 billion from pre-pandemic projections, and 100,000 restaurants have already closed. With historically low sales, what are the key ingredients restaurants can take away to be successful?
Although revenue is down as a whole in the food and beverage industry, takeout and delivery sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic. We are witnessing an unprecedented paradigm shift in consumer behavior patterns, accelerating digitization by ten years, according to some estimates. Wide and permanent adoption of electronic payments, digital ordering, and more are on the horizon.
Creating a differentiating takeout and delivery experience lets your customer easily find your brand and order from you online. Whereas you may have declining reservations and more empty seats, meeting your customer at their digital doorstep creates new revenue streams.
Secondly, in a growing economy, increased sales naturally create more jobs. On the contrary, when sales are low, such as in the current economic climate, furloughs and layoffs are expected. With restaurants operating on less staff, there are boundless opportunities to utilize technology to counteract labor shortages, too.
Make Ordering and Contactless Payments Easier
With current labor shortages, restaurants face new challenges in managing their operations to maximize efficiency. For example, suppose a restaurant typically requires one dishwasher, two cooks, a bartender, and two servers to run at full capacity. In that case, you can only imagine what ensues if they lose a server.
Making ordering and payments more effortless allows for reduced wait times and a seamless customer experience. It also streamlines restaurant operations by enabling them to operate on less staff and focus on other vital tasks, such as bussing tables, bartending, and cooking. Here are several different ways restaurants utilize in-store technology to create “contactless” ordering and payment.
A new trend in restaurants is the use of QR codes for ordering food on-premise. A diner can scan the QR code while sitting at their table. They then can pull up the menu, see nutritional information, order their meal and drinks, and pay through their phone. There is a reason that 52% of restaurants in the U.S. have switched to QR codes menus. Orders are sent directly from the dine-in guest to your POS, reducing unnecessary contact between the restaurant staff.
You can increase engagement by giving guests a personal and very interactive ordering experience and even highlight menu item customizations, giving you more flexibility over a printed menu.
Automated Kiosks and Tablets
Automated kiosks and tablets significantly improve the restaurant experience by eliminating the need to stand in queues and waiting for turns at the counter. In fact, 65% of customers prefer self-service kiosks, and 68% of diners agree tablets improve their ordering experience.
Customers Want Positive Digital Interactions With Restaurants
Digital interactions are at the forefront of communications between customers and businesses. They create new opportunities for companies to reach potential customers and strengthen relationships with existing ones. With the rise of digital technology, there are numerous ways restaurants can interact with their customers online. Below are tips on optimizing your online presence to make interactions more favorable for your customers.
Consumers want to know what other people think about your dining experience before making a reservation or trying you out. Reviews are a major Google ranking factor as well. According to Upserve, 92% of consumers read restaurant reviews, and 33% would never eat at a restaurant with less than four stars. It is more important than ever for restaurants to monitor their digital presence and ensure they stay on top of what people say about them online. The power of online reviews cannot be understated.
People who have eaten at your restaurant are likely to leave a review on Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or one of the other major online review platforms. Some will praise your stellar performance, while others will leave not-so-tasteful feedback. Regardless, it’s crucial to reply to all reviews, regardless of sentiment. For the unsatisfied reviewer, an opportunity awaits to earn a second chance and show future diners you sincerely care about improving experiences. For your biggest fans, nothing builds a cult-like following than letting them know you appreciate their support.
So how do you increase your reviews? You have to ask for them. And while some platforms like Yelp discourage generating reviews unnaturally, the key to greater conversion is ultimately getting more reviews. There are many ways to solicit reviews. A QR code at each table, your bar, and even receipts make for a great opportunity. Have a digital menu board in-store? You can add a QR code front and center. Servers can ask for them, too.
Besides a majority of consumers trusting reviews as much as a personal recommendation, Google uses reviews to evaluate brand reputation, giving those with higher star-ratings and more review volume, greater brand visibility. Converting new customers is key to growing revenues if you’re a new business or tapping into more than just regulars on a slower day of the week or hour.
Online Ordering For Delivery and Take Out
Today, 76% of customers want a good ordering experience online. The advancements in online ordering of food have changed the way people eat. In a recent report by the National Restaurant Association, 60% of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout at least once a week.
Small details go a long way towards making online ordering consistent across all ordering platforms. Sure, a percentage of hungry consumers will come to your website to make a direct order, which is why it’s essential to have clear and concise ordering instructions throughout your website. However, many people order through third-party ordering platforms, such as GrubHub, PostMates, and even Google & Google Maps. For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure your contact information, hours of operation, weblink, address, and ordering information are current across all platforms.
Increasing your market share is synonymous with expanding your local business listings. For customers to find you, you should consider where your customers are currently searching for information and how they are searching. Not only should you obtain a Google My Business listing for free and, of course, Yelp, but you should also ensure your brand is consistently visible on no less than 30 platforms. The more platforms you are listed across, the more signals Google and other search engines can locate about your business. We know brand visibility increases exponentially with 100’s of regularly optimized listings.
While the listing itself is essential, accurate information is just as crucial for algorithms to tie together your business from across the web. Elements like accurate hours and phone numbers lead to a better customer experience, as do attributes like LGTBQ+ friendly, Hispanic owned, Black-owned, and thousands of others. Why is this important? Most searches begin with generic searches like, ‘food near me’, ‘restaurant near me’, ‘fried chicken’ or a competitor name. Attributes help users find exactly what they’re looking for, like a wheelchair-accessible business.
Showing up online is all about relevancy and a user’s location when making their search. Several options for expanding your presence beyond GMB and Yelp exist, letting you manage your restaurant while local marketing experts enhance visibility for you.
Since its inception, OpenTable has seated more than 2 billion diners via online reservations, equating to 91 billion spent at partnering restaurants. Many diners find it more convenient to book their reservation online than call or come into a restaurant. It also provides a more accurate count of what restaurants should expect on a specific day or time slot (GMB also provides this breakdown by day of the week/time).
The key to engaging potential reservation-makers is to be very granular with your reservation options online. For example, include additional information such as window-seating, outdoor dining, special occasions, allergies, etc. Understanding a diner’s preferences before coming in allows you to serve their needs more effectively, ultimately creating a better in-restaurant experience. What a huge advantage!
Promoting Specials and Boosting Quiet Times
Restaurants can use specials to create a sense of urgency in the minds of their customers. The goal is to attract more customers by offering discounted prices on particular food and drinks to boost normally quiet times. From a customer point of view, specials are an opportunity to try new restaurants, meet new people, and explore new flavors, while also saving money. Astute restaurant operators are innovative in utilizing online technology to promote their happy hours and specials, such as social media posts, newsletter blasts, GMB posts, and, of course, posting on their own website. Bringing more people in the door will increase margins and widen your customer base, especially during slow times.
Another innovative opportunity for increasing check sizes and upsells with recommended items and promotions are contactless on-premise ordering. On top of offering added convenience, this is a great way also to promote specials and increase revenues in an effortless yet engaging channel.
Email and SMS Seating and Delivery Notifications
To gain an edge against the competition, restaurants must provide a sensational dining experience for their customers, from start to finish. No matter how delicious your food might be, hungry bellies grow more irritable when waiting to be seated or slow delivery orders. Automated notifications are a savvy way to maximize communication with customers.
You keep them better informed by letting them know their delivery is on the way or their table is expected shortly. This ultimately makes them feel more appreciated and, in turn, more empathetic to longer wait times. FYI, numerous third-party SMS and email notification software are available to help optimize delivery and seating processes.
The challenges created by the pandemic have opened doors of opportunity in unexpected areas for the food and beverage industry. Investments in food-tech have proven an innovative solution to combat labor shortages and unpredictable supply chains while increasing brand visibility and sales.
Restaurants still remain vulnerable to erratic economic swings until the pandemic is over. Restaurateurs wanting to stay closely connected with their customers realize technology is the ultimate gateway. With 85% of Americans owning a smartphone, you can reach more people where they are, always connected.
At See Deep Local, we specialize in creating and implementing a comprehensive digital marketing strategy for our clients. We work with restaurants throughout the nation, from independents and franchises to chains with expanded footprints. Please contact us today to learn how our proven strategies can help turn curious online visitors into repeat diners.