Getting a bunch of restaurant operators, brands and tech pioneers in one room is a challenge at the best of times. Doing it in the middle of the festive, flu and rail strike season is nigh on impossible.
Call it a Christmas miracle, then, as this is exactly what happened at The Omnichannel Foodservice Conference on the 7th December.
The conference focused on how brands have embraced new channels and platforms in order to thrive through trying times, and evolve into the future.
There was an explicit intention from the start to focus less on challenges facing the industry and instead champion the industry’s resilience, versatility and appetite for innovation.
Couldn’t make it? We’ve gathered some of the most important insights below!
1. Brands that pivoted during COVID experienced growth
Many of the talks framed COVID as the catalyst for change in the industry.
When the Pandemic hit, operators had no choice but to diversify to new channels. What might have started as an attempt to weather the storm signalled a shift to a true ‘omnichannel’ approach. And out of this new approach? Growth
In his talk Pret: Fast Tracking Growth, Guy Meakin – Managing Director at Pret – explained how COVID triggered the brand to re-evaluate their business model – shifting focus to regional locations and digital subscription schemes.
Sarah Kennedy, Commercial Brand Director at Coco di Mama told a similar story. Delivery and at-home meal kits became their main sources of revenue.
They opened 130 delivery kitchens in three months during COVID, providing a valuable channel even after lockdown.
“The success of our at-home kits allowed us to save jobs,” said Kennedy.
As for Pret, the talk ended with an audience member asking whether the brand is more valuable now than before COVID.
“Is that a shareholder asking?” joked Meakin.
It was a joke born from confidence, clearly. Pret is well on course to achieve its goal of doubling the size of their pre-COVID model within five years. They’ve opened new shops in Canada, Ireland and Kuwait, recruited over 7500 new team members this year and announced a return to profitable operations in May 2022.
2. Digital, loyalty and data are "the future"
LEON and digital ordering
In her talk “LEON: Transformation and Innovation”, Mariam French, Marketing Director at LEON, praised the power of digital, and how the healthy fast food chain is “using technology and innovation to amplify the guest experience.” “We’ve really invested in digital,” French reported. “We introduced kiosks with our fantastic partner Vita Mojo.”
Introducing self-order kiosks into 80% of their sites has enabled LEON to increase footfall, even during the labour crisis. “Rather than having two to five POS points, we can now install up to ten kiosks per site. Digital ordering is now the lion’s share.”
With Vita Mojo, LEON can now analyse basket data across different ordering channels and use this to increase ATV by “upselling in a non-intrusive way.”
Pret’s subscription success
Unsurprisingly one of the biggest loyalty success stories was told by the MD of Pret, Guy Meakin. Pret’s coffee subscription now sees over one million transactions per week, with the secondary Pret Perks loyalty scheme offering customers a wider reward system that also includes food items.
Pret sees these programs “as a shop window,” Meakin reported. They connect the brand directly to their customers, empower them to display their products, and let them gather data.
Pret is using the data to shape their regional expansion plans. “We know people come into London three times a week. Where are they the other days? How do we build there and bring Pret to them?”
He also praised smart use of data as a way to improve the customer experience and brand affinity. “The insights we get allow us to build the relationship and give a bit back, making sure we are offering unique ways to continue the magic between us and the customers.”
3. What post-pandemic delivery slump?
“Delivery and digital will recover to be the fastest growing channels” post-COVID, according to Tim Cook, Managing Partner of OC&C strategy consultants.
This goes against the delivery slump that some predicted once COVID settled down.
The growing strength of delivery channels was backed up by Blonnie Whist, Insight Director at Lumina Intelligence in her talk The Power of Restaurant Brands in Retail, and Delivery Trends.
Whist reported that 44% of people have been ordering more takeaways since COVID. Even in economic hardship delivery continues as people are more likely to “treat themselves”.
Pizza Express’ delivery journey
Zoe Bowley, MD of PizzaExpress, gave some great insights into Pizza Express’ delivery journey.
“We partnered with Deliveroo to make delivery mainstream,” Bowley explained, a decision that came after investment in their own delivery solution. “We didn’t want to carry on down a complicated path of building delivery ourselves.”
Their delivery model- which now includes Uber Eats and Just Eat – has paid off, providing a viable model during the pandemic and well beyond.
Whilst introducing a delivery channel inevitably cannibalises some dine-in business, Bowley insisted this was negligible against the benefits the new channels brought.
“We’ve had record delivery sales during the World Cup,” she reported, weighing this against the loss of business the brand would usually suffer in the restaurants during similar events. “This wouldn’t be possible without the focus on delivery.”
Delivery as a channel has also contributed more value to the lifetime journey of customers. Previously PizzaExpress had seen a dropoff in engagement once customers had aged into their twenties, “Then we pretty much lose you as a customer until you have your own family,” said Bowley.
Delivery works to fill in this gap. “Both channels work together really harmoniously.”
4. But optimising delivery can be a challenge
This journey to an optimised delivery channel can be a tough one, though, without the right tools and setup. Especially difficult is getting it to work alongside a dine-in operation.
“Lots of our restaurants were built 30 years ago,” Zoe Bowley from PizzaExpress explained. “They weren’t built for delivery.”
When lockdown ended and restaurants re-opened, operators faced a sudden clash between their new delivery operation and their dine-in model, which both take place in the restaurant.
“It was creating carnage on a Friday night,” Bowley said. The brand invested over £1.5 million in optimising the two channels to work together, creating new processes, introducing delivery stations into their restaurants and working with a single-tablet POS.
“As soon as you add multiple channels you add complexity,” this from our very own Commercial Director Nick Liddle on the Tech and Delivery as Omnichannel Enablers panel. “Tech is really good at creating simplicity. That’s why we built our restaurant operating system in the first place.”
Want to learn how to create tech simplicity and build a resilient, omnichannel operation? Book in a chat with one of our experts below, and get a bespoke Digital Discovery consultation on your operation.
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