Technology has had a profound impact on the way people connect, relate and interact with one another. Psychologists and publications alike have weighed in on the pros and cons of technology and relationships — do text messages, dating apps and social networks help people stay more connected than ever before or do they create empty relationships that are shallow, less personal and less authentic? The hospitality industry has weighed this question carefully, viewing dining as one of the last remaining forms of entertainment revolving around conversation, laughter and connection with loved ones without technological barriers. But over the past few years it seems as if the answer may be shifting toward a more tech-savvy approach. While some traditionalists argue technology is at odds with hospitality, restaurants are increasingly adopting innovations in tech to build relationships and deliver an elevated guest experience in a number of ways.
To date, the use of technology in restaurants has been mostly around managing inventory, money, staff and possibly tables. While the idea of great hospitality and customer relationship management (CRM) is not new — this is the pillar on which the restaurant business is built — many owners, GMs, reservationists and wait staff still rely on memory or pen and paper to keep notes on loyal diners and deepen relationships. But tech advances in CRM are now beginning to revolutionize this process, to make it faster, more scalable and more interactive.
Better CRM technology is important for restaurants to be able to more efficiently deliver high levels of hospitality.
Better CRM technology is important for restaurants to be able to more efficiently deliver high levels of hospitality, especially to a new wave of diners who are used to living their lives online and practically expect a more customized level of service. When preferences, birthdays and relationships are public and on display for the world to see, the level of hospitality a restaurant can provide changes in a meaningful way. If millennials don’t have to remind anyone — from close companions to childhood friends they haven’t spoken to in 15 years — that it’s their birthday (thanks, Facebook), shouldn’t a restaurant bearing the responsibility of making a celebration special be able to readily access this information as well?
New systems are making it easier for public information about guests and their preferences to be aggregated and used effectively so they can be greeted warmly and have an experience tailored to them. These systems, like Reserve for Restaurants, enable staff to more seamlessly acknowledge a birthday without a guest asking, help treat a regular from one location the same way when they visit a sister restaurant for the first time and make it easier for new staff to build solid relationships with guests who’ve been visiting the restaurant for years.
The new CRM technology for restaurants is powered by the rising trend among diners to use technology as part of their dining experience, as they make reservations online based on drool-worthy photos they saw on Instagram and then post Internet reviews of their experience afterwards. Most restaurants already follow the rule “be where your customers are,” checking aggregate reviews and using online feedback to facilitate better guest experiences. If guests are using technology and putting themselves out there, savvy restaurateurs need to use tech to get to know those guests and better meet their needs.
A more formal CRM system has long been a practice at the high-end of the industry. Restaurants who pride themselves on intimate, soigne experiences are known to Google their guests or keep detailed notecards on visitors, their families, past orders and preferences. The advent of tech innovation means that it’s now easier, more manageable and even affordable for restaurants of all types to do that work. Restaurants reap the benefits of investing in technology by being able to build relationships before the customer even walks in the door. Important information such as birthdays, anniversaries, allergies, favorite drinks and more can be sent easily to pertinent members of a restaurant’s staff so the chef can see the allergy notes or the server knows if there is a special reason to celebrate. New hires can inherit information in the click of a button that otherwise might have just been in the maitre’d’s head. Restaurant groups can greet guests who have frequented other locations warmly and better understand their customers across all locations. The likely result of these personalized touches? Guests will keep coming back over and over again.
Technology already plays such a huge role in the day-to-day operations of a restaurant, helping manage the books, purchasing, staffing and table management. Going forward, it’s safe to bet technology will also change one of the most integral parts of hospitality — how restaurants interact with their diners and get to know them on a personal level — for the better.