Consumers have come to rely on technology to support many areas of their daily lives, and it’s no different during the times they dine out. Here are five tech stats all restaurant operators should know, both to give customers the dining experience they’ve come to expect and to potentially build a more profitable business.
1. Customers expect seamless ordering. According to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast, nearly 40 percent of restaurant customers said they would use an electronic ordering system (like one that relies on iPad menus and interactive wine lists) to place their orders, if given the option. With such “self-service” menus, restaurant owners have opportunities to improve operational efficiency, including reducing the number of servers required to take customer orders, and limiting the amount of wasted inventory and “write-off meals” that occur as a result of miscommunication between the serving staff and the kitchen.
2. They’ll judge you based on your website. Customers use the web to form their expectations of products and places—NRA’s survey reveals that 61 percent of respondents have visited a restaurant’s website. Aside from underscoring the importance of integrating your restaurant’s brand message into its online persona—including featuring appealing imagery of the space, location and, of course, the food—your site allows you to proactively overcome potential hurdles and highlight your competitive advantage. If you specialize in healthier fare, for example, your site can use video and similar multimedia tools to explain how you source and prepare fresh ingredients to maintain nutritional integrity, while inviting the customer into the story to realize its direct and personal benefit.
3. Customers want to help reduce wait times. According to an NRA study, 52 percent of consumers said they would use a smartphone or tablet for delivery or takeout if the restaurant offered that option. Last September, for example, McDonald’s announced the testing of a mobile app ordering system, allowing guests to place and pay for orders before stepping into the restaurant. Though offering such capabilities means your front line and back-of-house operations must be airtight to ensure the mobile ordering option delivers on its promise of enhanced convenience, it can help you retain the business of customers who may otherwise leave because the ordering and pick up lines are too long.
4. Customers want to find usable information on your site. Given that 63 percent of consumers surveyed said they use a computer to view a restaurant’s menus, order food and make reservations online, your site must be just as functional as it is aesthetically appealing. Recent data compiled by Constant Contact and the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey indicates that restaurants are the most searched industry locations on a smartphone or mobile device, and that 75 percent of survey respondents base their dining decision on whether their search produced the information sought. If your menus cannot be easily viewed and searched on small and large screens, and reflective of real-time information including your specials and pricing, you are not serving the functional needs of tech-dependent customers—and they’ll likely go elsewhere.
5. They are looking for a deal. According to the NRA’s study, 50 percent of consumers surveyed said they would use a restaurant or special deal with a smartphone; the Restaurant Social Media Index indicates that 65 percent of location-based traffic (like “check-ins” on sites like FourSquare or Yelp) comes from restaurants. By dangling a special incentive to save money or get a free appetizer or drink, you can implement a highly relevant, low-cost acquisition strategy that “speaks” to customers in the moment they are looking for a place to dine. Regardless of the type of restaurant you operate, consumers have come to expect that the technology they’ve integrated into every area of their lives can be used to enhance their experience—and dining out is no exception. By taking note of how consumers use technology and adopting operations to reflect these changing preferences, restaurant operators have the opportunity to realize a competitive edge, and even streamline costs and efficiencies.
Kristen Gramigna is chief marketing officer for Chicago-based BluePay, a payment processor that helps businesses accept payments with iPads and other mobile devices.