Orchestrating Restaurant Operations to Increase CX

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for orchestration is “to arrange or combine so as to achieve a desired or maximum effect.” 

Simple concept yet much harder to pull off for today’s restaurants struggling to harmonize in-store, drive-thru, delivery and curbside experiences for both customers and employees. 

Customer expectations are level set by their most advanced in-store and digital experiences. And those expectations mean:

  • Mobile apps automatically apply discounts and loyalty points
  • Signage clearly communicates information like designated areas for pickups, online orders and dine in
  • Packaging keeps hot food hot and cold food cold no matter the delivery distance 
  • Diners have a great experience regardless of staffing challenges 

These vital components (and there are more), if not in sync, can turn into multiple points of frustration that degrade your customer experience and, quickly, your brand. To improve your brand and stay in customer’s consideration set, consider these six ways to enhance customer experience.  

1. Further Optimize Delivery, Takeout and Curbside Experiences

Many QSRs already relieve congested drive-thrus with distinct lines or protocols for call-ahead orders and third-party pickups. One of our clients, a well-known QSR legacy brand, added an express drive-thru lane for customers ordering ahead on the brand’s app. Customers drive up to the designated lane, scan their order code and are rewarded by getting their food quicker. This also reinforces ordering through the app. 

Think, too, about evolving the customer journey around in-store pickup. Some  restaurants use “pick-up racks” with rows of bags marked with a customer’s name. Improvements here increase order accuracy and cut down on added food costs for remaking a stolen or misplaced order as well. 

Food traveling via delivery and customer pickup often contend with wide windows of time, so packaging has the added job of maintaining temperature over time and through varied temperatires with both hot and cold climates. It’s not enough just to contain it for transport. Updating packaging to account for new ways of getting food from restaurant to car to house to table can increase propensity to re-order significantly.  

Considering new formats can address all of the areas noted above. We worked with one of our Atlanta clients on a new concept that took the brand from a large, sit-down bar and restaurant to a smaller version prioritizing buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS). Keeping brand integtrity, the interior featured a walk-up counter, digital menu boards and condensed seating/waiting areas with TVs. Not only was it successful during COVID but new habits account for a maintained lift in the new format.

2. Thoroughly Test Ideas and Train Employees Before Implementation

A well-known QSR brand recently failed to fully vet its app prior to releasing it for customer use. Customers ordering on the app went to the drive-thru only to find employees didn’t have their orders. Once the orders were finally fulfilled, customers also found it hard to pay on the app. 

One diner noted, “It felt like the brand was trying to make the customer fit the app rather than the app fitting the customer.” This was both a technology and operational fail due to lack of proper testing/QA and employee training. 

App adoption and changing customer behavior are hard enough to entice. If spoiled by a bad experience, it’s almost impossible to reverse the imprint in customer’s minds.

3. Own Your Changes 

In March 2023, restaurants’ food prices were 8.8 percent higher than in March 2022. They are expected to increase 6.5 percent this year. When adding in the rising cost to attract and retain labor, it’s understandable that restaurants might raise prices to stay afloat. Doing so can cause sticker shock if regular customers are now paying more and don’t know why. There’s also a feeling of being disregarded that comes with an unexplained price increase.

If you’re adding a surcharge to cover processing costs when customers pay with credit cards, be transparent about charging more to cover the fee when diners don’t pay with cash. Burying this information in fine print at the bottom of the menu or not putting it anywhere at all can quickly drive customers away and become a social media nightmare in an instant. 

4. Technology Adoption

The self-serve generation likes ordering with touchless QR codes, while other diners prefer a physical menu in their hands. If you force all customers to use QR codes or physical menus, you could turn away a portion of your diners. 

Some technology changes need an adoption period with extra signage for instruction. For instance, if you are introducing QR codes: while most diners have used them before, simple instructions on tables or other signage can help adoption and reduce frustration or confusion.  

Our client, a quick-serve franchise chain, found its drive-thru menu boards were confusing to guests. Too many choices and configurations led to customers ordering lower-priced items. By applying best practices, conducting customer interviews and a focus group, we redesigned and optimized their menu boards to be both attractive and drive custmers to purchase higher-yeild, more-profitable core items. 

Optimized menu boards are critical today when so many QSR customers don’t want to leave their cars. So, it’s important to enable them to pick what they want and present it in a way that works for them. Simple tech adoption tweeks can tick up price per check and create a positive experience for customers.

5. Understand the Increased Role of Signage and Wayfinding

Today’s store/restaurant parking lots do more than hold parked cars or lead to the drive-thru. Paths should be clearly marked, with easily findable spaces for third-party delivery drivers, customers picking up their orders and for in-store diners. New customer habits have created new pathways that alter the traditional experience journey. The best way to get customers on the new path is clear direction on how through signage and wayfinding.

One of our longstanding customers created a standalone walkup- and pickup-only restaurant on the densely commercial and visually noisy Las Vegas strip. The roof design captivated hotel guests who could look down out of their windows or walk by on a nearby footbridge. We also created signage that communicated clearly how to queue and pick up orders, whether they were made via mobile phone or in person. 

6. Update Pandemic Fast Fixes

Some safety measures and operational considerations done during the pandemic should revert back or be optimized more efficiently now. If, for example, you eliminated the hostess stand to discourage people from milling about while waiting for a table, solve for how customers are greeted and seated if you’re not returing to your previous ways of working. 

Where to Start Getting it All in Line

It’s a lot to think about and even harder to orchestrate. Start by going through each distinct part of the customer journey to find out what needs attention, then improve those particular areas. Again, simple but when is the last time it was done for your stores? Use sales figures and customer trends to prioritize what journey needs addressed first. Possible fixes and upgrades means spending money but ignoring problematic parts of the business compound these costs as well as the significant cost to your brand.