It’s no secret that the use of technology in the restaurant industry has been a fairly slow adoption. Outside of point-of-sale systems and quickbooks, restaurants have been known to operate by hand, and pen-to-paper., without much thought (if any) given to the online user experience. Whether it’s a server making a quick note for the kitchen to read or a physical menu from which to order, there has been a certain simplicity that has been observed in the industry — until COVID-19 hit. Within only a few months, as cross-contact became an issue and social-distancing orders were enacted, the familiar way of operation was turned on it’s head, taking the unique dining or user experience and ambiance of restaurants everywhere with it.
It’s not that restaurants couldn’t have adopted more technology into operations earlier, they certainly could have. However, a large part of the experience that a customer gets and what they remember most about a restaurant is not only how the food tasted, but how it was served. Whether you’re dealing with a snarky server at Ed Debevic’s — famous for creating an atmosphere full of sarcasm and playful banter or the elite dining experience of a Michelin- Starred restaurant where couples would walk in for a date and walk out engaged. The dining experience was a large part of what brought patrons back time and time again. And the dining experience hinged on one main component: interaction.
Now that COVID-19 has eradicated any opportunity for interaction within an actual restaurant dining-room, maintaining a unique dining experience has become a nearly-impossible task. Without the in-person feedback, how does a restaurant know if a customer is satisfied? Outside of answering phone-complaints and yelp reviews, how does a manger do their due-diligence to make sure that any meal served sub-par is remedied? Having been thrust into a virtual world, how does one succeed? Why, with a virtual solution of course. In a situation like COVID-19, the old saying “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” immediately comes to mind. When dining rooms have been forced closed on a state and federal level, instead of protesting, how can you find a way to bring your dining-room virtual? It all begins with your menu.
How much time has been spent creating an online user experience akin to your dining-room?
You’ve probably spent countless time and budget dollars on creating the right atmosphere within your restaurant. It’s not cheap to put a smile on every customer’s face and to make sure they’re satisfied. It takes the right serving staff, culinary team, hosting staff, ingredients — the list goes on and on. But have you spent the same amount of time and energy to make sure that your customer’s virtual dining experience was just as magical? What does the user experience look like online? Are you still using a PDF for your menu? Outside of well-written content and logo, how are you virtually representing your brand? Chances are, you’re set up like most e-commerce websites. And that’s not saying anything negative! Before now, the only purpose your website served prior to COVID-19 was to sell food! What purpose did the online user experience serve until now? You weren’t concerned as much with customer engagement or anything outside of the smoothness of your POS (point of sale) system. As long as Google Ads and Facebook Ads did their job and revenue came out of it, what else did you need? With your physical locations carrying the responsibility of the customer’s first impression, your website simply offered a way for customers to re-order their favorites.
How much money has been wasted out-sourcing to Third-Party ordering sites?
Dare we say that online menu concerns were so trivial for a time there that were were outsourced to third parties? And given the new way that restaurants must operate during COVID, outsourcing has become a revenue-stealing headache. And the only reason we even mention it is because we were right there listening to our restaurant clients as they navigated the waves of the COVID-current themselves. And as everything began crashing down, we heard the pains of long-tailed operations, insufficient inventory strategies and above all, the complete fear over customer engagement now that restaurants were being forced to operate their kitchen through their online menu. Curbside pick-up helped restaurants and diners commiserate over their COVID frustrations a bit, but due to the face coverings and 6 feet between them, interaction was still as distant as ever. We’ll liken it to a culinary hostage agreement. Uncomfortable right?
What would it mean to make customer interaction and feedback a natural part of the ordering process?
Enter an operational platform that makes it’s home within your menu which is by far the most frequently visited and/or interacted-with page on your website. What would it be like to transform your menu into a virtual dining room where each customer receives a unique experience from perusing your menu to checking out with their order? Just like the dining-room is the epicenter for experience, interaction and satisfaction within your restaurant, your menu is the hearth of your online site. Each interaction with your menu tells a unique data story. Ever wonder what the most-ordered item is on your menu during any given day of the week? When or why that changes? Have you ever wondered what creates the magic combination that brings an LTO (limited time offer) to a permanent place on the menu? Can you imagine being able to A/B test potentially new menu items without physical surveys and the observation of your customer as they sat in your restaurant dining room? Instead, you could post the proposed menu items directly to your site and receive a report as well as real-time customer feedback describing their enjoyment (or lack thereof) of your limited time offers. What if your LTO would have been successful with one small ingredient change?
If you could get an inside-look of your customer’s ingredient preferences, what would that do for your profit margins?
Speaking of ordering, what would it mean to you to have a birds-eye view of how your customers interacted with your menu’s ingredients? If you had a barbeque bacon burger and 48% of the time customers removed onion, how much money could you save by ordering 48% less onion to fulfill the order for that sandwich? Now multiply that data across every ingredient interaction throughout your entire menu. What would that do for your profit margins? How would that make your vendor orders more exact? How would that eliminate food waste? What else could change as a result of owning that data?
When you transform your menu to cater to a unique user experience for your diner, you quit playing the guessing game. Instead of wondering what’s happening on the other side of the screen or at the dining-room tables of your diners, you’ll be the first to know! Your dining-room might be closed, but your connection to your customer doesn’t have to be.