The pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives—the way we shop, the way we interact, and most importantly, the way we eat. Gone were the days of waiting in a restaurant waiting for your number to be called, customers want their food in the same seamless experience they are used to from brands like Amazon or Netflix. Digital ordering, an innovation that the pandemic brought to the forefront, has now become an expectation for consumers. And brands must find new innovations to stay ahead of the competition or get left behind. By implementing four key features to your digital experience, quick-service brands will be able to match expectations and thrive, pandemic or not.

Personalized Display

The first feature that brands need to incorporate in their digital experience is personalized display. Customers have been conditioned when browsing online seeing only items that are relevant to their needs—whether it be people they may know, items they may like to buy, shows that are similar to their favorites, or the closest location they can pick up from. Customers want to see themselves inside their digital experiences, they want to feel like each experience has been tailored to their wants and needs.

Quick-service restaurants can start with personalization by starting with the basics—order history, location, menu analysis and customer profile. Order history allows customers to view their favorite items and their recent orders and quickly reorder at the tap of a button, allowing less friction in the purchase journey. While personalizing customers experience by location allows for them to see popular items from their area, as well as exclusive offers for their neighborhood and makes the user to feel connected to the people around them. Allowing users to quickly add items that are frequently bought together, and tailoring those items to the time of day, allows users to more efficiently add items to their cart.

Once you’ve learned more about your customer through their order history, their location and menu analysis—you are ready to start building a customer profile. What does this user look like on daily basis? Do they typically buy food for their entire family? Or do they typically buy just a single serving? What time of day do they usually purchase? Lunch or dinner? On the weekdays or the weekends? When there is a big game happening? Or just to grab a bite to eat between meetings? All of these items can lead to configuring customers digital experience to feel more custom and keep them coming back for more.

A Compelling Loyalty Program

The second feature that quick-serves must look to is a compelling loyalty program. Having a customer loyalty program has been the standard for some time, but how it’s implemented has determined the business results, especially as we lean more heavily into digital. Focusing on the right adoption drivers, a redeemable system that motivates, and taking from other ecommerce industries will set up the basics of a successful loyalty program. But since loyalty programs are a dime a dozen these days, how can brands drive adoption?

The first step is to offer customers something that matters to them, what items are drivers into your restaurant? Start this process with a menu analysis and see what are some of the items that bring people into your store and offer something similar. A higher cost item usually raises adoption rates, and the cost becomes justified if the engagement tactics raises the customer’s order frequency rate.

Next, you need to find redeemable items that customers actually want to use. If a customer is confused the value of your points system, or they are accumulating points just to get 5 percent off a side item, this discourages usage. Make it clear how the points or dollars are earned and easily convey to the customer what their redeemables can get them in value. Offer suggestions for what they can redeem for with their total today and a progress bar for how much they’ve earned toward another reward. Since customers are no longer just comparing quick-service concepts to one another, you must look across industries to other ecommerce brands in order to see what works for other brands. Customers are very experienced with online shopping, which has been accelerated during the pandemic, using similar messages as other industries is a familiar experience for them and shows results. Cart abandonment messages in regard to loyalty earnings, instant offers after purchase, gamification on streaks, all have shown to be successful in the restaurant industry as they have other digital industries

An Integrated Digital Ecosystem

You may be solely focusing your features in one channel, having a great app or a robust kiosk system for example, but customers now expect a similar experience in any channel they decide to engage in with your brand. If a feature or service is offered by your brand it should be offered through each channel your brand owns—for example, if Apple Pay is in your app, your website needs to have it as well. If your loyalty program shows the available redeemable items on the web, it should be displayed at the drive thru and in-store. This is especially important for the personalized display, due to the fact that usage for web and app are extremely similar. Almost as many customers prefer to use the web for digital interaction compared to the native app channel. The expanded offering raises adoption and engagement rates with your customers, as they know they can interact with your brand in whichever manner is the most appropriate at that time and still get the value they’ve experiences in other channels.

This is not only the benefit of the customer and meeting their expectations, but for business and kitchen operations. Curating disparate screens, printers, POS interfaces for the kitchen brings down training time, managerial oversight, rollout timing, and chance of error. Integrating all services in your ecosystem also allows for more efficient reporting and analysis–showing all services offered by channel to determine more quickly what is working, what needs work, and how each are being utilized. Integrating your digital ecosystem will not only provide customers with the seamless experience they desire, but also help the operations of your business.

Buy-In From Operations

None of these features would be possible without the buy-in from the kitchen operations and their team. Many restaurants are exploring new digital offerings as a primary focus, but are not considering the impact it has on their kitchen operations which may lead to failure. Kitchen operations are the driver to quality product, timeliness, and customer satisfaction for your brand. If any new digital service is being offered, operations needs to be one of the primary, if not the primary, stakeholder in discussing execution. Several of the largest chains are building their kitchen design and operations first, then focusing on the type of service, then finally the customer experience. Operations needs to be trained if there are new kitchen lines, how to display free times, if there are any new windows or cubbies for order pickup, and how to prioritize preparing the food. By including your operations team in this digital transformation, it will ultimately lead to a successful customer experience across digital.

Final Thoughts

With so many uncertainties around supply chain, staffing, and the overall economy—the only solid insight we have for the future is that customers expect a digital offering from all tiers of the restaurant industry, from fine dining to quick service. By implementing the basics of these tenets, you will start to unveil what is proving successful and will quickly evolve the initiatives into a more mature offering at each stage. First, introduce each as small-scale tests at a limited number of locations (or a single location) learn from the tests, validate what is working, and scale from there. After several iterations of these workstreams, efficiencies will materialize and your digital presence will optimize and thrive and keep customers coming back time and time again.

Dustin Hassett is the Senior Product Manager at Bottle Rocket. Dustin is a digital product specialist and has been working in the digital product space for over eight years now. Before joining Bottle Rocket as a Senior Product Manager, Dustin served as a Product Owner for various clients across multiple industries including health and wellness, manufacturing and construction. Dustin serves as the lead for one of Bottle Rocket’s quick-service restaurant brands and is focused on bringing efficiency and innovations to the restaurant industry. Dustin holds a degree in Communication and Journalism from University of St. Thomas and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Business Advice, Customer Experience, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Ordering, Outside Insights, Story, Technology