Mobile Technology is Rapidly Changing (and Overwhelming) the Restaurant Industry
Many industries are embracing the latest in technological advancements for the good of their business, and yet restaurants seem to be dragging their feet. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) recently collected data from customers and found that, if available:
33% would pay for their meals on their mobile phone
40% would order their meals using an app on their phone
44% would pay for their meals with a table-side POS option
50% would view the menu on their phone
Whether it’s frustration with the ever-present smartphone, the fear of increased costs, or the lack of understanding when it comes to technology, the shift is happening now and is showing no signs of slowing. Is your restaurant ready for it?
Some Food for Thought
Some claim that technology is negatively impacting the restaurant industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. In fact, we’ve found some ways it can be a boon to your business:
1. How far does this thing go?
Aside from the usual, “How long of a wait is it?”, the next question your hosts most likely get in the middle of the dinner rush is the distance their pager will take them. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to respond with, “As far you want”?
Give your customers the flexibility to wait wherever they like. If they want to sit on the bench beside the host stand and glare at your host staff, fine. If they go to the bar to drink away the minutes/hours, that’s even better. But if they want to roam around your shopping center or community while they wait, take down their phone number and give them a “page” while they’re out and about.
With apps like Table’s Ready, WaitAway, Guest Manager, NoWait, and Diner Connection, the benefits go beyond keeping your customers happy. With these tools, you’re opening up a whole new means of communication with your patrons.
2. How long’s the wait?
Let’s say you’ve eliminated the crowds of hungry patrons standing around the host stand waiting for a table to open up. They’re still going to want to know how long the wait is. You could wait until they’re in your restaurant, or you could give them a tool that allows them to check before they arrive.
Sure, people could just give the restaurant a call with those phones they’re so attached to. But they’d probably appreciate the option to tap-tap-tap on their phone a few times to find out how long your wait is. With apps like What’s the Wait and WhyWait, you’re doing just that.
3. Can we have another minute?
Nothing has really changed in terms of the expectations your patrons have when it comes to placing and getting their orders. There’s always going to be the diner who expects a greeting as soon as they sit down so they can order their J&B on the rocks and their usual calamari appetizer. And there’s the diner who wants to talk to their dining party for a bit, and get settled before even picking up the menu.
Tools like Vivonet Kiosk and Breadcrumb allow your waitstaff to be table-side when customers are ready to order and to get those orders in ASAP (albeit with some limitations compared to a traditional POS).
The orders go into the system in real-time, so there’s no more forgetting what someone ordered or forgetting to put the older into the system in the middle of the dinner rush. Everything goes in and then it’s the kitchen job, as always, to turn it out.
4. What’re you gonna give me?
Customers love free stuff. You may not be able to go around and offer each patron a free dessert for the night, but how about some loyalty rewards? Posiq is one of those programs that allows you to reward your customers for their return business while you get valuable information about general customer preferences, trends, and the types of incentives you can use to drive business.
5. How did you hear about us?
Okay, so this is more a question from restaurant staff than customers, but it’s still important to ask. We don’t live in a day and age where the typical Friday night calls for a drive down to Main Street to see who’s got what going on.
We’ve got social media for that. Facebook and Twitter; Yelp, UrbanSpoon, OpenTable and other restaurant-centric social websites… Your customers have their fingers on the social pulse and are going to find your business (or your competitor’s) through the news and reviews they see online.
Social media is an extremely powerful marketing tool for most businesses—especially restaurants. You can use it to gauge real-time customer experiences when someone uploads a photo or shares a review (positive or negative) online.
Interact with customers about specials for the day, 86’ed menu items, upcoming events, wait times, etc - create the image you want for your restaurant. We’re living in the age of pictures and as few words as possible. You want attention for your brand, and images are the way to get it. There’s no better way to share those images and shape your brand than through social media.
6. Customer motions with a “Let me sign the check” hand movement towards the person they think is their server.
Anyone who has spent significant time dining or working during a dinner rush on a Friday or Saturday can attest to the fact that it’s not always the best experience. Everything takes a bit longer to turn around…and then it comes time to pay the check.
For customers, there’s nothing more frustrating than being done with the meal and ready to head out, only to see that their server just got slammed with three other tables in the vicinity.
Or maybe the customers just think their server is ignoring them as they see them run by the table six times in fifteen minutes and notice there’s still no checkbook sitting in their black apron. On the flipside, you’ve got the server checking to see if drinks are ready at the bar, trying to remember who needs their food, and wondering why the hostess just gave them three more tables.
Square and Tabbed Out are the solutions claiming to keeping everyone happy. Of course, you run the risk of losing that personal interaction when the server picks up the checkbook and the customer responds with and smile and “keep the change”.
The server can then wish them a great night and fully close up the experience with that customer. It’s a risk to take, but it’ll pay off in the end. There’s a lot to be learned from mobile device payments, and access to the customer’s smartphone for future updates or alerts can help your business stay top-of-mind when they’re trying to figure out where that next meal is coming from.
7. What if I want more control?
This is another question for the restaurant owner/manager and it’s a valid one. With all these random smartphone apps and websites available for your customers to interact with and find out about you, the shift of power has moved from restaurants and into the hands of the customers (and app developers).
There are mobile apps like MojoBistro and Adiante Apps that give you the ability to make your own personalized apps for your restaurant, helping you keep control of your restaurant’s image while gaining access to information about your patrons. And then there’s ChowNow, a comprehensive marketing tool that not only allows you to have full control over your restaurant’s app, but of the full ordering process on any platform.
8. Sooo…what else can this technology help me do?
Good. So you’ve warmed up to the idea that technology can help your business. Let’s take Red Book Connect as an example. This is your one-stop shop for managing all things for your restaurant: from hiring and scheduling to planning inventory and training. This cloud-based application gives you the power to do all this in real-time, from any device, and guarantees results. Cost savings, better time management, a happier staff, and satisfied customers—what more could you ask for?
9. What about those of us in the kitchen?
Yep, they’ve got apps for the wizards behind the curtain, too. Try Markon on for size. This app is all about keeping the chefs of the world up-to-date on seasonal items, nutritional tips, and putting food inventories to good use.
So there you have it - restaurant tech is taking over, and we just outlined a few examples; there are literally hundreds of platforms and apps out there that can help run a restaurant more efficiently. Trying to figure out the best options for YOUR restaurant seems to be the the biggest hang-up in adopting this new technology.
Test out the tools that make sense for your establishment to see what works. Most have free trials and downloads for you to get your feet wet. The sooner you jump in the better, as your competitors are surely contemplating doing the same!
Contributor Suzanne Scacca is a FOH veteran of the restaurant industry and who now writes about the joys of cooking and consuming food.