Restaurant management

MRM EXCLUSIVE: Lessons learned from two years of running socially distanced restaurants | modern restaurant management

As the restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit throughout the pandemic, restaurants have quickly adapted to the changing landscape. Reports show that 81% of fine dining establishments, 78% of family restaurants and 77% of fast food establishments have added curbside pickup, moving away from food services after March 2020. In addition to this, nearly half of all restaurants offered delivery services during the pandemic.

Restaurants finally had to embrace what they had long shied away from: modernization.

Technology has clearly played a huge role in restaurant modernization, especially in light of the pandemic. As a result, the use of self-ordering kiosks and QR codes during the pandemic has increased by 750%, with 77% of survey respondents saying they would prefer contactless ordering and payment once the pandemic is over. Additionally, menus have largely gone digital, and more and more restaurants have since embraced digital menu managers as a way of life. Surveys have shown that these trends are driven primarily by a millennial clientele, with 64% saying food delivery and takeout are “essential to their lifestyle.”

In March 2022 alone, meal delivery service sales were up 6% year-over-year, collectively, with 51% of U.S. consumers new to ordering meal delivery services (vs. 47 % in March 2021). DoorDash and its subsidiaries also earned 59% of food delivery sales to US consumers, followed by Uber Eats, which gained 24%. Postmates, a subsidiary of Uber, gained 3% of the US meal delivery market, bringing Uber’s total market share to 27%. Grubhub and its subsidiaries accounted for 14% of food delivery consumer spending in the United States.

Additionally, with the wider adoption of digital ordering and contactless dining, restaurant locations have become even less important and ghost kitchens have begun to thrive. Nextbite began building digital brands that only existed on DoorDash, Uber Eats and other food delivery apps, proving that customers didn’t have to worry about the brick and mortar of a restaurant. Instead, they could focus on the product and the people who fulfill and deliver an order.

The traditional three Ps – product, people and place – have been usurped by the idea that if a product was good and the public was there to order online, running a ghost kitchen could be a way to change or to add revenue to a struggling business. It also paved the way for starting a new restaurant without much financial commitment.

All the while restaurants were stubborn to move, it turns out that embracing change with technology has potentially revived the industry.

A formidable transition

When online reservations first arrived, many restaurants scoffed at the idea of ​​removing customer interaction. Restaurants still followed the traditions of talking to customers, providing face-to-face service with a premium experience, and going the extra mile. Booking a reservation in person was a much more immersive experience. Yet many restaurants have probably never considered that not all customers want this interaction. Customers might have wanted to make their booking in the easiest and least intrusive way possible. Ultimately, one of the key lessons from the pandemic is that customers care about the product itself. Yes, fine dining will always exist, as well as personalized face-to-face service, but for the most part, if a customer likes your food, then your food is what they want.

The restaurant industry is a service industry, after all, and the most important part of service is getting your customer the product they want. Restaurants began to realize that good service wasn’t always about human interaction – it was actually about meeting a customer’s wants and needs. When pandemic-era interaction took precedence over technology like QR menus, some businesses shifted their operating models to embrace technology and give customers options for how they want to dine. While some restaurants will still opt for the in-person experience, the future of restaurant hospitality will continue to let customers “choose their own adventure,” with digital ordering.

Lessons learned

People will always want to eat. The question has never been whether the restaurant industry will survive, but how.

1. Nothing like technology aversion

Technology has made the restaurant experience easier and better for everyone. Worried about the varied control styles of different generations? Turns out technology aversion isn’t age-related. Customers of all age groups benefit from the ability to order online for curbside pickup or delivery. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that no matter the age of the customer, no one likes to wait in line, whether at the checkout in a store or at a table in the dining room of a restaurant.

2. Online ordering provides data

Some restaurateurs might tell you that an online or digital menu seems too impersonal. However, it turned out better for everyone involved. There are many kitchen display systems that allow staff to observe how quickly food is being prepared. Different marketing avenues and POS platforms can lead to a sale with online ordering and e-commerce. But restaurateurs never really understood whether their specific marketing choices were successful in bringing customers into their establishments to purchase specifically marketed items. Digital menus and online ordering, however, provide exact data points on what’s selling and what’s not. They also show how many people are ordering online for pickup and delivery compared to the restaurant. Collecting user data trends makes restaurant marketing easier.

When customers use your digital menus on their smart devices, they provide you with data about their ordering and delivery preferences. With this information, you’ll know which items sell best and whether customers tend to prefer delivery, pickup, or dine-in. Digital menus also store customer orders and payment methods for more convenient future online visits. These digital touchpoints allow restaurants to learn more about their current customers and, over time, attract new ones.

3. Hospitality reinvented

The industry traditionally viewed hospitality as precise service, like taking an order correctly or bringing food to the table at the right time. In reality, hospitality is how a restaurant makes its customers feel. It’s making people feel like they’ve been given what they want and treated well. Using technology to understand customer pain points before they know they exist, make better recommendations, or allow customers to order and pay faster all contribute to a sense of genuine and lasting hospitality.

The industry has changed a lot over the past two years. What might have seemed like a temporary change at one point turned into an evolution that is here to stay. Some customers may want to dine with minimal interaction. Others can order delivery without any interaction. There are so many options when it comes to providing people with what they want and need.

Restaurant owners should do their best to accommodate each customer’s desires for a more personalized experience. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever. By embracing modernity and technology, the future of the restaurant industry is far less daunting – and far more hopeful – than it once seemed.