The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, realized sales in 2020 came in at $240 billion below forecasts, over 110,000 establishments were closed, and nearly 2.5 million jobs were lost. All of these changes mean restaurants need to emphasize the customer experience to remain competitive in the market.
Even as more and more people are getting vaccinated, many opt for meals-to-go rather than in-person dining, where allowed. Offering consumers multiple avenues to place their order can simplify the ordering process for the consumer. While some customers prefer to call the restaurant to place their order, others prefer to use technology, whether it is the restaurant’s own website or app or a third-party delivery service. Restaurants can also make in-person ordering easy with the use of QR code menus and ordering systems.
When customers order using a restaurant’s website or app, or they order through a third-party delivery service, it is easy for them to pay directly using the payment processor, without needing to handle cash, give their credit card to a waiter, etc. However, restaurants can improve the dine-in experience by also offering these customers contactless payments.
Offering this can be as simple as working with a payment processor that accepts near-field communication (NFC) payments, which is the same technology used with Google Pay and Apple Pay. Restaurants may also work with various third-party wallets that work via QR codes.
With the numerous regulations regarding social distancing, mask mandates, etc., the information customers need to know is constantly changing. Installing and using digital signage can make sure customers have the latest information that will impact their visit. Digital signage can also be especially helpful in organizing your takeaway orders.
Order IDs can be put in a queue on the digital signs with status updates so customers know when to pick the order up. This can help customers keep a safe distance from one another by preventing crowding near the counter or window.
Geofencing is a location-based technology that can make curbside pickup even more efficient. This technology essentially sets up a perimeter (a geo-fence) of a certain radius around the restaurant. Assuming the order is ready, when a customer enters into the specified perimeter, staff can be notified to deliver the order as soon as the customer arrives. Note that geofencing is also a valuable marketing tool as restaurants can use to build brand identity with both new and existing customers.
Lockdowns and restrictions forced many restaurants to find a new way to serve customers. One standard solution was to offer curbside pickup. By giving customers the option to stay in their vehicles, restaurants can protect their patrons and staff. Curbside pickup lets customers order ahead and pick up their own orders rather than using third-party apps. This can help restaurants save on fees and costs associated with third-party apps while improving the customer experience.
While the world is finally starting to find some semblance of normalcy as vaccination rates increase and restrictions are lifted, customers are still cautious about their health. One of the most important things that restaurants can do to help customers feel safe is to clearly communicate regarding the various precautions taken when it comes to preparing, packaging, and serving food.
Additionally, restaurants should make an effort to clearly communicate to the customer what measures they can proactively take for a better customer experience, such as designating waiting spots, information regarding required vaccination or mask mandates, etc. These efforts go a long way in enhancing the overall customer experience.
Just as it’s important to tell customers what measures the restaurant is taking, it’s even more important to actually take proper precautions to keep both customers and staff safe. This means doing the basics such as mask-wearing, handwashing, maintaining mandated occupancy rates, proper packaging for to-go orders, etc. When customers observe these precautions being taken, there is a greater sense of satisfaction and a positive impact on the customer experience.
No One-Size Fits All Solution
As can be seen, some of these solutions are straightforward and relatively low budget, whereas others are technology-based and require significant capital. Each of these solutions can benefit the customer experience in its own way. The important thing is to decide which solution works best for the restaurant’s customer base and fully commit to its proper execution. Failure to execute these solutions well could easily take from the customer experience, which could be detrimental in today’s market.