When thinking about the future of the dining experience post COVID, it is easy to get caught focusing on things like digital only self-service, sci-fi-like drone food delivery and taking pills or shakes instead of food. The reality is that the real next-generation of dining will be about enhancing the restaurants we all visit and love to feel more customized, efficient, and more connected with their guests – in every way.
The past year has created many challenges for the restaurant industry. Any time there is a disruption in an industry, gaps appear that create opportunities to reassess what is working, what isn’t and explore how to modernize operationally. Almost more than any other sector, we’ve seen this in the restaurant and hospitality industry. After all, it is here that operations are run on infamously razor thin margins, and the opportune emergence of technologies that provide a better experience for venues and guests mean for the first time in decades, restaurants have a real chance to boost their bottom line.
New tech is not being designed to fully overtake the ordering and paying process, rather, …
The need to modernize and adapt to pandemic-related changes; paired with the industry’s pre-COVID pain points such as the high cost of staff turnover (hiring, training, retaining), inability to be more efficient at peak hours, order mix ups, seasonal volatilities in the supply chain and high lease costs signal that the new era for full-service restaurants needs to look, and feel very different. But not in the way you might think.
The next-generation of restaurants will see a shift toward leaner operations, focused on both on-premise and off-premise dining. More importantly, we are going to see a stronger first party connection between restaurants and their guests, one that is more personalized–and therefore more satisfactory, as well as better experiences for restaurant employees who have a real opportunity to redefine the role of service. So what exactly does this future look like?
The Shift to Co-Pilot Mode
The growing popularity and adoption of online shopping has created a new mental model in which consumers have become accustomed to controlling how and when they make their purchases.
That sense of being in control of our time has now become an integral part of our experiences and is already appearing to be the expectation within the dining room. Consumers are less forgiving than in the past when a server is not around to call for another round of drinks or to ask for the check. New restaurant technology has emerged to tackle these challenges by putting the power into the hands of guests, creating both a complete self-service contactless option and what is a newer and less common ‘co-pilot’ experience.
… its purpose is to augment restaurant flows, preserve meaningful guest/server interactions, improve efficiencies, and speed up the customer touchpoints like ordering and paying, when needed.
This new tech is not being designed to fully overtake the ordering and paying process, rather, its purpose is to augment restaurant flows, preserve meaningful guest/server interactions, improve efficiencies, and speed up the customer touchpoints like ordering and paying, when needed.
Once restaurants start thinking in these, more flexible terms, significant opportunities emerge to be very contextual and specific about offering or reminding guests about additional services. For example, right after a successful self-payment experience occurs, restaurant tech can create a micro-moment to ask guests to rate their experience in the same interface.
If done right, a huge amount of relevant data can be collected that explains why the guest has spent as much, tipped as much, or if they have the intention to come back. We can now gather operational data in terms of what is sold–like we would with POS transactions–but also experiential data in terms of why they are sold. This is great feedback for servers, managers, and HQ for further improvements of their offerings.
Another opportunity is offering loyalty points direct to the consumer while they’re in the moment. By integrating perks and incentives in real-time, order sizes and cheque sizes increase. Or, once a menu item is being reviewed, in that micro-moment the up-sell items can be presented as a "goes well with" item. These opportunities not only increase cheque size but also provide a much better customer experience.
Rise of the Restaurant Concierge
There’s been a growing consumer shift recently away from valuing commodities and toward valuing experiences. Creating high-value, memorable experiences, both in the digital and physical worlds will be crucial for restaurants moving forward. The pandemic-related extended absence from the physical world (aside from our homes) has served as a warning about how critical that world is to our wellbeing.
In order to be set up for success, restaurants need to fundamentally understand the value of being surrounded by other people, conversations, natural or man-made environments, materials, sounds, aromas, and tastes, and how each one of these factors is deeply interconnected with others to produce our very own experience. By leveraging new technologies that empower customers to better control their experience, servers are gradually becoming “concierges” of restaurants. Rather than being in a frenzied rush trying to do it all, their time spent on the floor can be re-engineered entirely with guests co-piloting the meal. This enables servers to focus their efforts on delivering a great guest experience, elevating their role within the business and the industry overall.
Design-First, Tech-Enabled Operations
We know that creating a guest-led experience will be key to customer satisfaction for restaurants. While restaurants don’t always have full control over a guest experience, what they can do is set a stage in which those experiences will occur. That includes the store design, furniture, food and beverages, lighting, aromas, music, other guests, servers, other activities, sense of belonging to the neighbourhood–all parts of front of house–but also all the supporting back of house operations like chefs and kitchen operations, cleaning staff, managers, and the technological tools that connect many of those operational streams.
By leveraging new technologies that empower customers to better control their experience, servers are gradually becoming 'concierges' of restaurants.
In order to create that positive guest experience, restaurants need to have everything working behind the scenes. This is where restaurant technology plays its biggest role. By ensuring that orders are being submitted accurately, communicated to the kitchen staff, tallied up on the cheque, and that all that information is integrated into the inventory system, accounting, etc., the right technology can remove all the pain points and opportunities for human error so that staff can focus on what they each do best, rather than being pulled in so many directions.
While the excitement of drone deliveries and robot servers may have some players intrigued, the next-generation of restaurants and the true future of the dining experience is on track to be more meaningful and impactful than ever before. As restrictions lift and customers start rushing back to their favorite neighborhood restaurants, the shift to a technology-backed, experienced-based restaurant industry will mark a true step forward for the industry. One that will be greatly received by all who’ve felt starved for true connection for so long.