Does going digital in restaurants mean the end of great service?


November 21, 2019

As different segments of the restaurant sector reach capacity and start to experience consolidation, a process accelerated by spiralling costs and economic uncertainty; how do restaurants embrace technology as a positive disruptor, a force for good?

“In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.” – Danny Meyer, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

Is it really possible to maintain an emotional connection and maintain brand loyalty when reducing human interactions during the in-store customer journey?

We know, from our conversations with restaurant operators, there is a nervousness around digital service. Many believe that customer service staff remain the best way to provide a great brand experience and create a loyal customer base.

How do you make your customers feel?

One of the best ways to measure a customer journey is to understand how that journey made the customer feel, and to understand whether that customer is driven to return again and again, thus achieving brand loyalty.

A practical example of how a brand leader outside of the restaurant sector has balanced brand and service, introducing digital service, is Apple. Pamela Danziger in a recent Forbes article, ‘3 things retailers need to learn from Apple about the experience economy’, highlighted three lessons that could be learnt from the Apple retail model:

  1. Become a Place to Learn: In the experience economy consumers can be relentless at gathering all the information they need before making a purchase.
  2. Become a Place to Gather: Angela Ahrendts formerly of Burberry and now Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail explains, how the Apple shops are “one with the community.. that is the overarching vision of the future of Apple retail”.
  3. Become a Place to Serve: Focus on the quality of the service within the in-store experience. Ensure professionalism and training with a focus on the customer, not the transaction.

As Kamila Laura Sitwell makes the case for in ‘Bespoke: How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’. The future success of restaurant brands will depend on their ability to stand out from the crowd and create community, learning, exploration and personalised experiences for their customers.

The power of personalisation by Kamila Sitwell

There are brands in the restaurant and bar sector who are already creating more than just a transactional service style. The bar group Mr Foggs, in London, are leading the way on experiential service in the bar sector focusing on the adventures of Phileas Fogg at each of their bars. Food markets such as Mercato Metropolitano, have become places to learn, gather and serve; curating the best in food and drink and working closely with the local community.

In a restaurant sector that is seeing the continued rise of delivery aggregators, and the recent news that Travis Kalanick, ex Uber, is investing huge sums into the dark kitchen market, technology is key. The delivery market is forecast to grow a further 20% and is spurning ever more web only food brands with no physical high street presence. So, how we can balance rise of technology and automation with the need for well-pitched human interactions in our restaurants?

How to keep customers coming back to your restaurant?

Maximise staff effectiveness

Automate the more basic tasks during the in-store customer journey. Customer feedback tells us digital ordering process often provides a better experience. It allows for menu and brand discovery, greater control by the customer to make the right choice. This can be an opportunity to reduce labour costs or redeploy staff to become in-store hosts, enhancing the customer journey and adding true value to the brand experience.

Manage throughput over peak more effectively

The single biggest challenge we find amongst restaurant operators, is how do they manage peak trading effectively?

Digital ordering via in-store kiosks and online can aggregate orders, and process incoming orders via a capacity management system that manages covers per time segment increment. This helps restaurants to spread peak over a longer period and enhances the in-store experience for the customer by making it less rushed and frenetic.

Data, feedback and loyalty

Retaining, rewarding and communicating with our customers in restaurants has become the holy grail! Digital ordering means that in an environment such as the Vita Mojo restaurants where between 35% and 45% of our customers order online via a personal profile, we generate a huge amount of data we can pro-actively and carefully curate content for.

After every online order, each customer is able to give the meal an Uber style thumbs up or thumbs down with an accompanying comment, and as a reward they will receive a loyalty point, a Mojo, can be used as a currency and redeemed against subsequent orders.

Digital Ordering at Vita Mojo

Other industries and sectors, like financial services, have found a way to integrate digital and human interactions within the same customer journey. One enhancing the other and all focused on a brand experience that resonates and increases brand loyalty.

Gen Z, a digital savvy generation, expect a fantastic digital experience. We cannot afford to ignore this. Now is the time for the restaurant sector to harness the disruptive nature of technology with the reassurance of the human touch.

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