I design better online ordering platforms and mobile applications for restaurant brands.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better place to have been during the pandemic. It’s an unfortunate time in general, but professionally speaking, the food tech industry has seen tremendous growth in response to the pandemic.

People are suddenly asking for services to adopt trends like curbside pickup, touchless delivery and kiosk ordering stations. And as the pandemic winds on (and on), more people continue to grow more comfortable with their relationship between ordering food and mobile technology. There’s an ever-growing demand for these apps and websites.

The data we acquire shows that the adoption trend isn’t going anywhere and that mobile ordering will continue to grow even after the pandemic ends. So many people have jumped on the bandwagon and learned to interact with their favorite brands in new ways. They are using branded mobile apps and loyalty programs for free stuff. This has all become so popular that it’s hard to even imagine a world where consumers wouldn’t continue using these tools five years from now or beyond.

Let’s face it: we’re entering year three of the pandemic here. The tools getting us through aren’t patchworked anymore. They’re just business as usual. It would honestly be weirder to go back to standing in a long line just to place an in-person order than it would be to navigate through a new restaurant mobile app or locate an order from a pickup shelf for the first time.

So then, in my UX-focused world, that means it’s time to hone this craft for the long haul and focus on improving these tools and the user experiences they facilitate. Lately, that’s been an effort in building personalization.

The data is evident: people prefer personalized experiences. They want “their” brands to know them, understand what they’re here for, and build useful, timely experiences into their apps and websites.

Those very experiences are why 20 percent of users say the branded mobile app is their favorite way to order for pickup—because the app remembers them, their previous orders, their credit card numbers, their closest store, and so on.

So where do you start in practice, for all of you savvy restaurateurs, UX designers and digital scientists out there, still getting your brand fully on board the tech train?

Four important tips for personalization come to mind:

Remember my name

The first time I open your app, you should gather a little personal information from me. Ask me my name, my email address, and my birthday. Then, use this information! It may sound basic, but people respond well to seeing and hearing their name. As Dale Carnegie points out in that old classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, “a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” Want to build loyalty? Wish me a happy birthday and shoot me an extra special gift.

Remember my order

Here’s a fun fact about restaurant apps: people have this (surely illegal) habit of firing them up when they get in the car. This is exactly why one touch reorder is such a friendly personalization. Because not only do you remember my name, but you also remember what I like to order. You remember my payment info. You can re-offer it all to me and seal the payment deal with just a touch or two, on the go. When I take the extra time to customize some complicated, unique-only-to-me order, I really don’t want to have to start the construction process over the next time I’ve got a craving.

Give me what I like

While we’re on the topic of you knowing what I like to order, why not use that information to incentivize future actions? After all, if you’re looking to drum up extra business with a coupon, the success of the offer depends entirely on my desire to take you up on it. So, make sure that the free chicken sandwich coupons go to the people who like chicken sandwiches, not the burger people. And make sure the burger people get a burger coupon, too! With a little dynamic personalization, we can ensure that we retain more customers and drive more incremental visits by knowing what our people like and giving it to them.

Show me more

If you know what I like and what other people like too, you can make recommendations to me based on others like me. This is where the rubber really hits the road on personalization. Not only can you get me in the door with my go-to order, but you can also show me what others like me have discovered, whether that’s extra pickles, or a specific sauce that the demographic loves, or maybe it’s that little add-on chocolate shake that pairs so well with a dipped French fry.

Here’s the kicker: people feel far less shame upsizing or adding on when interacting with an app or kiosk versus in person. They’re far more willing to add a little extra or try a little more when spared the judgment of others, and digital ordering tools offer anonymity and privacy. So, use the info you’ve got, and give your people all those little extras they secretly crave.

If your new app can incorporate these four basic personalization goals into its DNA, your users are going to love your brand and come back for more.

Kayvan Sotoodeh, VP of User Experience and Design at Tillster, is an award-winning creative director and educator with diverse media experience. Before joining the Tillster team, Kayvan previously worked for a number of global design teams, including StubHub, Microsoft, Yahoo and Disney. He holds a Masters in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU and a Bachelors in Communication Design from Parsons School of Design.

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