Bars, restaurants and cafes may be able to re-open, but regaining consumer confidence remains a challenge. Even with the huge uptake of curbside and delivery services, it’s imperative to the survival of these businesses that people book tables. We take a closer look at the tech making this possible in the post-pandemic landscape.
If retailers are struggling to persuade everyone it’s safe to go back in the water, so to speak, foodservice businesses are facing an even tougher challenge.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey suggests the majority of Brits still feel uncomfortable at the prospect of eating in a restaurant, with just over two-in-10 of the 1,788 adults asked saying they would be happy to have a sit-down meal as restrictions ease.
So what can businesses do to help make the customer feel safe?
In addition to the use of hand sanitiser and PPE, other suggestions include asking staff to change gloves between customers or diners to remove their own plates.
However, according to Conor McCarthy, CEO of Flipdish, simply introducing new behavioural practises can be expensive, time-consuming and impractical. Instead, technology can play a part in supporting social distancing measures, particularly when customers order and pay for food.
He explains: “One example is self-ordering kiosks. The digital touchscreen allows customers to order by tapping menu items on a screen instead of speaking to a cashier. Kiosks can drastically reduce both the size of queues and the number of person-to-person interactions. Many kiosks are card-only which greatly reduces the risk of spreading infections via surfaces on cash.”
International chains including McDonald’s adopted the technology some time ago but Conor says it isn’t just for brands with big budgets:
“Pre-lockdown, forward-thinking restaurant owners had found success with technology that enables customers to order from their table via a phone app. The software gives customers confidence they can receive food with limited staff contact and vice versa.”
But the potential for the technology to reduce queues and person-to-person contact goes beyond simply ordering from a chosen table. The same software can also be used to allow customers to order food from a hotel room, airport gate or even seats at a concert.
In Manchester’s lively Northern Quarter, a single app allows diners to sit outdoors and order from any bar or restaurant and have food and drink brought out to them.
McCarthy adds: “The technology implemented now is not just a lockdown quick fix but will improve the bottom line in the long-term too. Kiosks and apps will never call in sick, be rude to a customer, or make a mistake when giving change. Instead they can speak several languages and offer customers quick service. Profit margins, as well as customers, will see the benefit as research shows the average basket is 20-30% bigger when purchased through systems such as a digital kiosk.”
The ability to order and pay for food via our phones has been in use for a while though, so in order to remain competitive, businesses will have to enhance their offering by using technology to enhance the customer experience. This may include looking at ways to reduce or eliminate queues.
OrderPay, for example, has pioneered a function through which foodservice customers can pay for items simply by tapping their phones on a shelf label.
Social distancing is of course going to be key in the reopening of our hospitality industry and quickly becoming a part of our new normal. But as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, we must take care not to lose what’s special about eating out: the atmosphere. It’s a social experience, it’s about being around people – not just those at your table, but the general buzz of other diners, waiting and kitchen staff.
If safety measures put in place are at the expense of this atmosphere, the novelty of the post-lockdown pint or meal will quickly wear off. Eating out will not be the experience it once was, people will stop booking tables, and the herculean effort it’s taken to remain open will be for nothing.
Perhaps new technologies can help us walk the line between social and safe interaction as we get used to the new normal, but what about after that? How can technology help secure the long-term future of foodservice businesses?
Joseph Cox, business development manager at sales enablement software provider sales-i, says: “The COVID-19 crisis has been a huge wake up call for the industry. If it has taught us anything, it’s just how powerful a tool technology can be to connect both organisations and individuals. Going forward this connectivity is going to be more important than ever, so we firmly expect technology adoption to increase as more businesses look to reshape their offerings, become more streamlined and ultimately, develop more data-driven strategies.”
Sales enablement software platforms such as sales-i give organisations full visibility of customer relationships on a range of metrics that allow the user to spot trends and identify opportunities to cross and upsell.
The benefits are compelling. Cox says that the average food wholesale/distribution business using the software can expect an increase in total sales volume of as much as 20% alongside increases in average invoice value and the number of spending customers.
He adds: “Being better informed about customer behaviours enables businesses to make better decisions about overall sales strategies and move from reactive customer relationship management to more proactive sales.”
Next time we explore how traceability technology can help ensure food security in a post-pandemic landscape.