The Quest for the Restaurant Industry’s Holy Grail—Unified Commerce

There was a time, not too long ago, when interacting with a brand—be it a retailer or a restaurant chain—was a fairly uncomplicated process. There was a single point of sale or channel. If you wanted what the brand was selling, you went to a brick-and-mortar location and bought it. 

As technology has evolved, however, the number of potential channels has increased, giving rise to first multichannel and then omnichannel marketing. These are familiar terms to many, although not everyone is completely clear on the distinctions between them. Shopify—a company that knows a thing or two about these matters—has this to say: “The main difference between omnichannel and multichannel is that omnichannel involves all channels and revolves around your customer, while multichannel involves many channels and revolves around your product.”

A broad definition of the omnichannel customer might be anyone who comes into contact with your brand at any touchpoint, be it in-store, on your website, on social media, or through email or a newsletter. Ideally, the transitions between all of these touchpoints should be seamless, from the perspective of the customer, who should be able to rely on having a consistent experience with your brand. In the case of a restaurant mobile app, for example, the user interface should look and feel like an authentic part of your operation—a part that just happens to be situated on the guest’s phone and not in a physical location.

The Quest for the Holy Grail

Delivering that seamless omnichannel experience has been especially essential for restaurant operators in the past two years. COVID-19 has left its mark on the restaurant industry in ways that will likely be felt for decades to come. When lockdowns and indoor-dining restrictions hit early in the pandemic, technology enabled many restaurants to respond and move much of their footprint from on-premise to off-premise. Whether it was mobile ordering, delivery, curbside pickup, or drive-thru, it would be hard to think of a better real-world illustration of the omnichannel concept.

As running a restaurant has steadily become more challenging, however, customer expectations have become greater. Guests demand personalized and rewarding experiences with minimal effort and zero friction, regardless of channel. The right platform can create a better, more relevant experience for consumers by personalizing it without being invasive. The consumer expects to remain in control of that relationship by deciding what data they are willing to share. To respond to these demands requires flexibility in technology, and access to real-time, meaningful customer insight.

Behind the scenes, however, is often where the seams start to show. This is because many brands rely on tech solutions from a number of different vendors. These individual components were not necessarily designed to integrate with one another, and are essentially band-aided together into a system that works. Every restaurant operation needs solutions for the challenges presented by ordering, POS, back-office operations, and loyalty programs. Finding one single platform that can deliver on all of those fronts without having to be cobbled together from disparate parts is a little like the quest for the Holy Grail. 

Unified Commerce Could be a Game-Changer

Imagine each of the aforementioned functions as individual Lego bricks that click together by design (no band-aids necessary), adding up to a single platform. A system that can combine crucial functions like customer engagement, ordering, operations, and analytics can streamline operations and make life easier for managers and their teams by easing some of their mental burden and reducing frustration.

A number of bigger restaurant brands (including McDonald’s and Domino’s) have created their own proprietary tech platforms, but this is currently beyond the capacity of many companies. Instead, these operations deploy multiple vendors when what they really need is unified commerce, (UC) that can combine critical functions like customer engagement, ordering, operations, and analytics. Rather than pour time and money into developing their own bespoke tech stacks, most restaurant operators would prefer to have a single “off-the-shelf” solution that just works, with fewer vendor relationships to keep track of. What they don’t want, however, is for such consolidation to limit their future options. To be truly future-proof, a unified tech platform should have well-documented APIs and a thriving ecosystem of partners.

In a very real way, the big chains have already proven the product market fit for the value of a Unified Commerce. Now it’s just a matter of time; we will eventually see a unified platform that will become available in the SaaS model to a broader market. At PAR we see a clear opportunity to democratize the availability of an open, unified commerce system. It could very well have an impact on the restaurant industry comparable to what Salesforce did in the CRM space by bringing to market a cloud-based Saas product and making it available to hundreds of thousands of customers.

When it comes, true unified commerce will be an industry game-changer that will allow operations to take things one step beyond omnichannel.