Digital Disruption and Customer Experience Take Center Stage in 2021

    Success for restaurants this year will depend upon strong mobile technology programs encompassing devices, accessories, and support.

    iPhone 7 and brown case on a pink background.
    Unsplash/Maddi Bazzocco
    This year's big disruption for restaurant operators will not be an unforeseen pandemic.

    The emergence of a new year—especially after the turbulent events of 2020—usually brings new hopes and ideas. For quick-service restaurants looking to optimize operations of their dining room, digital and drive-thru channels, however, may be better served by looking back at the lessons learned in pivoting in response to the disruption of the pandemic.

    While on-premise channels have long been the main revenue for restaurant groups, it’s now become a nexus point where customer digital channels, big data analytics, loyalty programs, and customer engagement converge. This means quick-serves must truly understand how to leverage their mobile technology programs (managing devices, apps, accessories and support) to accommodate modern customers who truly want to—as one rather famous operator puts it—“have it their way.”

    Efficiency Starts from Within

    The very first place that quick-service restaurant operators must look to optimize their operations for efficiency and profitability is not in the processes their frontline workers must adhere to or the devices they use to execute daily tasks. It actually starts with determining which path is best to create a blueprint for digital transformation: Relying strictly upon in-house IT resources, leveraging the assistance of a third-party technology partner or some hybrid of the two.

    It’s become almost commonplace for thought leaders in this space to subscribe to the maxim that “everyone is a technology company whether they know it or not.” One recent example involved a major quick-serve group looking to digitally transform their operations to offer a modern scanning and kiosk experience for their customers in both dining rooms and drive-thru. With 85 percent of revenue from drive-thru channels, leadership understood that the key to enabling this was to invest in mobile technology with the sole focus of driving a better customer experience. Deploying scanner and kiosk technology that enabled better order accuracy and order speed would deliver on the expected outcome.

    Thus, they tasked various in-house strategy, operations and IT teams with coordinating the implementation. This ultimately led to a series of inefficiencies where one team would ideate, then wait for another to source hardware and services while yet another would oversee logistics. Adding to the project complexity was the management and direction for a multitude of external vendors and service providers. Ultimately, they needed an enterprise partner to help them source, manage and support the various vendors and devices needed to successfully deliver at scale, in an efficient and cost-effective fashion.

    Bringing it All Together

    The path forward for this particular group involved finding an enterprise mobile technology partner with extensive relationships with leading OEMs to create a “one-stop shop” to coordinate the end-to-end experience. Engaging with a partner allowed them to reduce the complexities involved in this deployment, at the same time freeing in-house resources to focus on larger revenue-generating initiatives. This single project thread also increased the group’s ability to market, drive sales and engender loyalty through their native app. Ultimately, their scanner/kiosk solution achieved the key metrics of increased order accuracy, faster order speed, improved employee satisfaction, decreased time-to-wait in line and an improved ability to engage existing and prospective customers through their app.

    This is only the beginning of the competitive headwinds quick-service restaurant operators will face in 2021. The next paradigm is the mobile-only kitchen, which will feature traditional drive-thru lanes coupled with dining room “pickup shelves” and drive-thru “fast lanes” for app orders. Location-aware technology will alert frontline workers to facilitate optimal order delivery times, and the native app for restaurant groups will be the central hub for this connected experience.

    Reliance on digital touchpoints across the customer experience also introduces a level of risk to disruption in services when problems arise with devices, services and software, that underscore the need for a complete mobile solution that includes robust end-user and technology support and managed services considerations. Knowing that their digital solutions will ultimately be as effective and efficient as the technology blueprints and support structures that underpin them, will help brands in their solution planning.

    2021’s big disruption for restaurant operators will not be an unforeseen pandemic, but rather failure to anticipate the required shift in digital transformation strategies needed to compete in a rapidly changing landscape.

    Dipesh Hinduja is the senior IT manager and technical architect at Stratix, specializing in maturing teams and businesses that operate in rapid-change technologies.