Find out how technology is transforming the casual dining sector.

In the hospitality industry many IT managers are faced with an inherited hotchpotch of ageing and unconnected systems. This spaghetti soup of IT not only makes it difficult to keep the lights on; many businesses are missing out on some truly delicious data as well.

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Smooth Operators: how an easy customer experience can improve revenue for pubs and restaurants

January 26 2017, by Olivia FitzGerald

Mobile tech is becoming a staple diet in casual dining, with real benefits for diners and significant ROI for the business

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"We try very hard to surprise and delight them...
and when we succeed (they) reward us by staying loyal."
Which famous businesses leader said this about his firm’s customer base? If you don’t know, have a guess. We’ll give the answer at the end.

To an outsider, the restaurant business is purely about the food. But people in the industry - and the casual dining industry in particular - are well aware that it’s not just the food but the overall customer experience that counts. A frustrating experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth that even the most fantastic food won’t shift.

It’s crucial, then, to ensure that the customer experience is as great as possible and to identify ways in which it can be improved to maximise customer satisfaction, improve efficiency and impact your bottom line through improved revenues and reduced costs.

One of the most effective ways to improve the customer experience is to make it faster. According to research carried out by Go Technology in October 2016, 69% of reported customer frustration relates to speed of service. One way to address that is to leverage the power of apps. Rather than simply use apps as marketing tools, some businesses are introducing them as a core part of the dining experience, with customers able to browse the menu, order and even pay via their smartphone.

There are clear benefits to pubs and restaurants that offer this service, because the kitchen receives the order as soon as the decision is made, not when an employee notes it down. The order might even be placed before the customers arrive at the restaurant. It’s just an extra step beyond outfitting employees with connected mobile devices: the app means your employees’ time is spent on the people who need their assistance, not the ones who don’t.

Anything that improves the efficiency of your table turns is obviously going to be good for business during peak periods, so speeding up orders and payments is a genuine business booster. But what about the times when you don’t want your customers to leave quickly? Using real-time data triggers to generate app notifications live in session can help with that too by providing opportunities to upsell or cross-sell, even after the customer’s order has been taken. That’s particularly appropriate when the order has been placed in advance: who could resist the temptation of today’s star dessert or a delicious little side dish when they’re waiting for their main course?

Another powerful tool is a loyalty scheme. People who sign up for loyalty schemes eat out more often than people who don’t: 54% vs 43% eat out weekly, according to research by Zonal. Results also indicate customers are more likely to revisit the brand (54% vs 50% saying they’re “extremely likely” to revisit), and are more likely to recommend it to others (26% vs 24% are “extremely likely” to recommend).

For the business, loyalty schemes are also a valuable source of data: as each customer has a unique identifier, such as a QR code stored in their brand app, that identifier can be used to build a detailed picture of individual behaviour and preference. And that data can be used to deliver customer delight, such as the free offer of their favourite dessert or a special deal on an item they tend to order. This can be a useful way of getting footfall in traditionally quiet days or periods, filling seats that would otherwise remain empty.

Using technology in this way, as you can no doubt guess, is particularly appealing to millennials. Zonal’s research confirms that this cohort is the key group for mobile ordering and payment, with almost two out of three customers already using such services. That said, numbers are still strong when taken across all age groups, with close to 1 in 3 people using their mobiles for ordering and payment.

There is clearly a huge opportunity for pubs and restaurants that can leverage technology to make the customer experience more delightful, but there are two key obstacles you’ll need to overcome.

The first is awareness: many people don't know that it’s possible to use their phone in such a way when eating out, even in establishments where the service is available. The second is trust: mobile payments are still a relatively unknown quantity and some customers may worry that such payments aren’t as safe as using their bank card or cash. The ongoing adoption of phone-based systems such as Apple Pay and Android Pay will help change this perception, but those services aren’t on everybody’s radar just yet.

Nevertheless, forward-thinking businesses are integrating novel ways to communicate with customers into their launch projects to futureproof their new platforms. 

Finally, lets go back to the head of one successful company who said this about his customers:

“We try very hard to surprise and delight them… and when we succeed (they) reward us by staying loyal.”

That was Steve Jobs talking about Apple, which is of course the world’s most valuable company. But the principles still apply to any business: look at the entire experience through your customers’ eyes. Where are the pain points or bottlenecks? What can we do to address them?

Pub and restaurant businesses that address this and come up with the most innovative answers are the ones that will reap the rewards.

Points to remember:

  • Apps aren’t just marketing tools. They can help improve the customer experience too.

  • Millennials are particularly open to using apps to order and pay.

  • People who sign up for loyalty schemes are more likely to revisit and recommend your business.

  • The most common customer frustration is slow service.

  • Apps provide excellent opportunities for upselling and cross-selling.

 

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Topics: Marketing and promotion