Sadly, the industry will emerge leaner from the pandemic, but it has forced operators to embrace digital. This new-found understanding of how technology and intelligent use of the data it generates can improve both the customer experience and the bottom line will help many operators survive and hopefully thrive in the coming months and years.
Mobile payments and ordering have helped operators serve customers safely and efficiently. But the technology has also opened the door for a new era of personalisation by way of digital menus. Imagine being able to tailor a menu for a particular time of day or occasion, or even a specific customer.
“You can present a menu differently to person A than to person B depending on their browsing history and what they may have ordered in the past,” says Crave Interactive COO Nick Pledge. “Nearly everyone accepts cookies, which gives us incredibly useful information about their preferences.”
The possibilities are many. Tried-and-tested menu engineering tricks can be combined with ecommerce techniques to create digital menus that dramatically improve the bottom line. And, most intriguingly, it won’t be long until operators are using artificial intelligence to work out the ideal way of pricing and presenting a particular item.
Making it personal
The rise of mobile ordering and payments also looks set to revolutionise how some operators create their menus, with more turning to digital ones that can improve the customer experience and drive revenue.
Digital menus have a number of advantages over their paper counterparts. They take no resources to produce, can be updated quickly to reflect changes in availability or the time of day, they can be translated on demand and – crucially in the time of Coronavirus – aren’t handled by staff or other customers.
But perhaps most intriguingly they open up the possibility of personalisation. “You can present a menu differently to person A than to person B depending on their browsing history and what they may have ordered in the past,” says Crave’s Pledge. “Nearly everyone accepts cookies, which gives us incredibly useful information about their preferences. This allows restaurants to tailor a selection of products that will suit a certain customer on a certain occasion.”
Zonal product delivery manager Matt Brooks is in agreement that personalised menus are a potential game changer, but recommends operators strike a balance between giving customers more of the same and encouraging them to try new things.
“Restaurant and pubs aren’t the same as Spotify and Netflix,” says Brooks. “People need to be able to easily find things that are familiar without getting stuck in a filter bubble and only ever seeing certain types of content, or in this case menu items. But making it easy for people to order their favourites is essential.”
With this in mind, Zonal is working on a feature that will place the last thing a customer ordered at the very top of the menu. “The idea behind it is that people can easily find what they ordered last time but are still tempted to browse the menu,” explains Brooks.
Digital menus also open up the possibility of filtering. This has multiple applications including larger wine lists and – most critically – allergens and other dietary requirements. Literally putting the information about the menu in the hands of the customer is far less risky than relying on staff members to explain what each dish contains.
Even better, if the restaurant already knows who the customer is and their dietary requirements, they can automatically provide a digital menu that only includes items they can eat, says Prask Sutton, CEO at Wi5. With many mobile ordering and payment system linking up with FOH and BOH systems, such an approach also guarantees that there’s a single source of truth for this critical data, a big advantage over the analogue allergen charts used by most restaurants.
Beyond allergens, menus can be tailored for other preferences, according to Vita Mojo CEO Nick Popovici. “Restaurants will be able to up the amount of protein or reduce the amount of fat for different customers. That level of personalisation and understanding of who the guest is when they walk through that door to ensure they have the best experience possible is there.”
It seems there’s significant appetite for this innovation with recent research by Lumina finding that 60% of consumers are willing to receive personalised food offers based on their previous experiences.
With 90% of consumers doing their homework before choosing a venue, it’s essential that hospitality operators get a handle on what is being said about them online. Happily, there are now numerous digital tools to do just that.
“Your reputation is safe if the first bit of feedback a potential customer sees is positive,” says Gary Banks, who heads strategic enterprise sales at online reputation management company Reputation. “But, on the other hand, if the first thing that pops up is something from an unhappy customer it’s instantly going to tarnish your reputation in the eyes of that potential guest. They’re likely to choose your competitor over you.”
With diners often very willing to write restaurant reviews, and so many different places where these reviews can be found, keeping tabs on positive reviews to promote and responding to any negative reviews can be a long and difficult process if a business doesn’t have the right systems in place.
This is where online reputation platforms can help in that they find and collate reviews from multiple sources and give teams the opportunity to reply to them. Reputation’s platform, for example, can be set to create tickets for every negative review or pass reviews with certain keywords - such as ‘food poisoning’ - to certain team members. Through integration with third party gift card providers, businesses can even automatically tempt customers back with freebies.
When restaurants and pubs do finally reopen there is little doubt that consumers will return to those places they trust, and which are in tune with their needs and habits. And not just in terms of great food and service but also in keeping them safe. Getting the message out there that your business can do that will be vital.