Digital ordering has become an expectation for restaurant customers

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The pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives: the way we shop, the way we interact and, most importantly, the way we eat. Gone are the days of waiting in a restaurant waiting for your number to be called, customers want their food in the same seamless experience they are used to with brands like Amazon or Netflix. Digital control, an innovation that the pandemic has brought to the fore, has now become a consumer expectation. And brands need to find new innovations to stay ahead of the competition or fall behind. By implementing four key features of your digital experience, quick serve brands will be able to meet expectations and thrive, pandemic or not.

Custom display

The first feature brands need to incorporate into their digital experience is personalized display. Customers have been conditioned to browse online only to see items that match their needs, whether it’s people they know, items they’d like to buy, shows like their favorites or the nearest place they can pick up. Customers want to see themselves inside their digital experiences, they want to feel like every experience has been tailored to their wants and needs.

Quick service restaurants can start with personalization starting with the basics: order history, location, menu analysis and customer profile. Order history allows customers to view their favorite items and recent orders and quickly reorder them at the touch of a button, reducing friction in the shopping journey. While personalizing the customer experience by location allows them to see popular items in their area, as well as exclusive offers for their neighborhood and makes the user feel connected to the people around them. Allowing users to quickly add frequently purchased items together and tailoring those items to the time of day allows users to add items to their cart more efficiently.

Once you know more about your customer through their order history, location, and menu analysis, you’re ready to start building a customer profile. What does this user look like on a daily basis? Do they generally buy food for their whole family? Or do they usually buy a single portion? What time of day do they usually shop? Lunch or dinner? Weekdays or weekends? When there’s a big game going on? Or simply to have a bite to eat between two meetings? All of these can lead to configuring customers’ digital experiences to feel more personalized and keep them coming back for more.

A compelling loyalty program

The second feature fast services should look for is a compelling loyalty program. Having a customer loyalty program has been the norm for some time, but how it’s implemented has determined business outcomes, especially as we lean more into digital. Focusing on the right drivers of adoption, a redeemable system that motivates, and taking inspiration from other e-commerce industries will set the foundation for a successful loyalty program. But with loyalty programs on the rise these days, how can brands drive adoption?

The first step is to offer customers something that matters to them, what drives your restaurant? Start this process with a menu analysis and see what are some of the items that attract people to your store and offer something similar. A higher cost element typically increases adoption rates, and the cost becomes justified if the engagement tactics increase the customer’s order frequency rate.

Next, you need to find tradable items that customers actually want to use. If a customer is confused about the value of your points system, or if they’re accumulating points just to get 5% off a secondary item, it discourages usage. Clearly explain how points or dollars are earned and easily communicate to the customer the value their redeemable items can bring them. Offer suggestions for what they can redeem with their total today and a progress bar for how much they’ve earned towards another reward. Since customers are no longer just comparing quick service concepts to each other, you need to research other e-commerce brands across industries to see what works for other brands. Customers are highly experienced with online shopping, which has been accelerated during the pandemic, using similar messaging to other industries is a familiar experience for them and is delivering results. Cart abandonment messages about loyalty gains, instant post-purchase offers, sequence gamification, have all proven successful in the restaurant industry as in other digital industries.

An integrated digital ecosystem

You may only focus your functionality on a single channel, having a great app or a robust kiosk system for example, but customers now expect a similar experience on whatever channel they decide to subscribe to. engage with your brand. If a feature or service is offered by your brand, it should be offered through every channel your brand has. For example, if Apple Pay is in your app, your website should have it too. If your loyalty program displays redeemable items available on the web, they must be displayed while driving and in-store. This is especially important for custom display, as web and app usage are extremely similar. Almost as many customers prefer using the web for digital interaction over the native app channel. The expanded offering increases adoption and engagement rates with your customers because they know they can interact with your brand in the most appropriate way at that time while still getting the value they have experienced on other channels.

It is not only the benefit of the customer and meeting their expectations, but also for the business and kitchen operations. Maintaining disparate screens, printers, and point-of-sale interfaces for the kitchen reduces training time, management oversight, deployment schedule, and risk of error. Integrating all services into your ecosystem also allows for more efficient reporting and analytics, showing all services offered by channel to more quickly determine what is working, what needs improvement, and how each is being used. Integrating your digital ecosystem will not only give customers the seamless experience they want, but will also help your business operations.

Redemption of transactions

None of these features would be possible without the buy-in from kitchen operations and their team. Many restaurants explore new digital offerings as a primary goal, but fail to consider the impact it has on their kitchen operations, which can lead to failure. Kitchen operations drive product quality, speed, and customer satisfaction for your brand. If a new digital service is being offered, operations should be one of the main, if not the main, stakeholder in the execution discussions. Many of the larger chains build their kitchen design and operations first, then focus on the type of service, and finally the customer experience. Operations should be trained if there are new kitchen lines, how to post free time, if there are new windows or lockers for order pick-up, and how to prioritize food preparation. By including your operations team in this digital transformation, it will ultimately lead to a successful customer experience through digital.

Final Thoughts

With so much uncertainty around the supply chain, personnel and overall economy, the only solid idea we have for the future is that customers expect a digital offering from all levels of the industry from catering, from refined cuisine to fast service. By implementing the basics of these principles, you will begin to uncover what is proving successful and quickly evolve initiatives into a more mature offering at each stage. First, introduce each as small-scale tests in a limited number of locations (or just one location), learn from the tests, validate what works, and scale from there. After several iterations of these workflows, efficiencies will materialize and your digital presence will optimize and thrive and keep customers coming back again and again.

Dustin Hasset is Senior Product Manager at Bottle Rocket. Dustin is a digital product specialist and has been working in the digital product space for over eight years now. Prior to joining Bottle Rocket as Senior Product Manager, Dustin served as Product Owner for various clients across multiple industries including Health & Wellness, Manufacturing and Construction. Dustin leads one of Bottle Rocket’s quick service restaurant brands and is focused on bringing efficiency and innovation to the restaurant industry. Dustin holds a degree in communications and journalism from the University of St. Thomas and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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