Sept. 21, 2020

Can Technology Save the Restaurant Industry?

Everyone is wondering how the restaurant industry is going to recover after COVID.

What will the hospitality industry morph into?

What do we do to be part of the change rather than left behind by it?


Well, a big piece of this puzzle is technology. I truly believe the future of tech and the future of hospitality are intimately intertwined. I want hospitality to have heart and a moment when we need help most, technological innovations exist that help us serve our customers better and more efficiently without losing that human touch.


Conversations I’ve been having with industry thought leaders have led me to think of how technology could improve my restaurant in a post-pandemic world, without selling my soul to it.

 

Hospitable Communication Platforms

A survey of thousands of Yelp users and analyzed by Dean Alex Susskind of Cornell University showed that the majority of consumers are satisfied with technology being a part of their dining experience. This has been felt the most in the reservations space. I can tell from experiences in my own restaurant. On a Thursday I had 100 reservations and on Friday I had 300. Reservations are skyrocketing and, of course, we can’t answer the phone to every customer who wants to book… or can we? 


There are ways of making the cold act of reserving a little friendlier. Virtually reservationist systems like FLO paired with customizable booking systems enable restaurateurs to personalize that first contact they have with the customer. Some reservations software allow personalization of the automatic confirmation emails. Reservations at this volume aren’t going away any time soon so perhaps employing these humanizing technologies will help bring my business into the new age.

 

Personalized Delivery Offerings

Restaurant owner Joelle Parenteau made the controversial decision to increase takeout as the majority of her business model and increase her delivery prices. It works amazingly for her German street food business. 


But my restaurant is different. It is all about the experience and supreme service. Is it possible to communicate that level of service to someone who hasn’t set foot in our restaurant?


A friend of mine recently told me that her Uber Eats order from a local restaurant came with a note from the restaurant. It said, “everything is going to be okay, love from The Restaurant”. That simple difference is what made her want to order from that restaurant again. 


What small token could set my takeout apart from the rest? I still want to delight my customer. I’ve thought of solutions like recyclable cutlery, elevated packaging, and personal notes to customers to elevate my product.


Perfecting Pre-Ordering

I would argue that this is the most difficult to be outstanding. Yes harder than food home delivery. Why? Well with pre-orders, your server is not there conversing, delighting, and (hopefully) upselling to customers. 

What is the dine-in experience without that crucial touchpoint?


I think as an industry we need to reframe our thinking around this. Myself included. Dean Alex Susskind told me “Tech is really important and it is a layer to the service, not a replacement of it”.


With pre-order systems, there’s the gift of speed and efficiency. Some restaurateurs have used them to lower your staff costs but the goal is to create a better dining scape in your restaurant. I wonder, if my customer were to order a beer at the press of a button and it was brought right to them in a flash, how delighted would that customer be? 


Pre-ordering also, in theory, doesn’t remove the ability to upsell! I could still train my servers to make suggestions to add to a customers’ order and provide sparkling service should the customer want to change their pre-order for any reason. 


I think getting over the coldness of technology boils down to me customizing the way we use it.

Though technology does feel a little soulless in a restaurant environment, I feel inspired by these three ideas to keep a human face on my business as we enter a new technological world.