During a State of Flux, Restaurants Can Keep Innovating

    COVID-19 has opened the door for new ideas for brands ready to capitalize.

    iPhone 7 and brown case on a pink background.
    Unsplash/Maddi Bazzocco
    Leveraging digital channels has been critical for branding and user experience.

    It is no secret that COVID-19 has presented a host of challenges for restaurants looking to reopen to the public. As cases have spiked throughout the U.S., and the national number of cases surpassed 4 million, many restaurants have had to go back to square one, putting the indoor dining openings on hold and/or offering delivery and/or carryout to their patrons. In fact, McDonalds recently announced that they would be delaying the opening of their dining rooms and would require customers to wear face coverings in its U.S. restaurants.

    So how can restaurants look to innovate while navigating the current state of flux for post-COVID era success? Here are a few things to consider:

    Restaurants need to take control of the entire ordering process, ensuring aggregators aren’t making the first customer connection.

    Restaurant marketing is the key to success in converting one-time customers into loyal, repeat customers. The benefits of restaurants owning their online ordering platform is enormous because owning the platform means owning the data. Restaurants can create social media campaigns targeting past clients and potential customers in different delivery zones by using a zip code, targeting friends of friends, lookalike audiences and offering special coupons based on events such as holidays and birthdays.

    Learning customers’ repeating behavior is a key aspect of this. For example, a family routine ordering pizza every Sunday evening—the restaurant can beat the marketplace by sending a text message with a promo code on the estimated ordering time. Once the customer makes the order online via the restaurant website or app, the restaurant has full control over the data, decisions on priority and the ability to choose who will do the delivery—whether it’s an employee or a third-party service.

    Another technology that can be implemented once the ordering platform is owned by the restaurant website is a “tracker.” Technology like this can help customers track their order live from the moment it was placed, through the preparation process, and through delivery. A live map can offer transparency into the driver’s location all the way until the food is delivered. By using tracker technology, the restaurant has the ability to keep the customer on their website for longer, and therefore, can continue to engage with the customer throughout the entire process.

    The link between the POS and the kitchen is where restaurants can thrive

    The kitchen is the heart of the restaurant. It is where the magic happens. By default, most restaurants operate in an old-fashioned manner, using printed tickets and requiring the kitchen manager make operational decisions in the moment. However, by utilizing a system that integrates with the point-of-sale (POS) system, kitchen operations can optimize the whole process and ensure an entirely positive and outstanding experience to the customers.

    Traditionally, the kitchen receives the order tickets and starts preparing the food in a first-in-first-out manner. However, when restaurants are able to make the connection between the POS and kitchen, technology is able to give shift leaders and restaurant managers the ability to see what type of orders are coming in and when, which tells them exactly what to prepare and prioritize the orders considering the food preparation time, type of order (dine-in, take-out or delivery), driver location and other relevant factors. This enables the restaurants to focus on food preparation, quality assurance and customer service, not on logistics and wrong decision making.

    To ensure customer loyalty, restaurants need to put effective measures in place to address concerns in real-time

    Restaurant operations need to be sophisticated when it comes to handling dine-in, pick-up, and deliveries. Many customers biggest concerns are that their food won’t be delivered on time, their order will be wrong and their food won’t be delivered hot and fresh.

    It is imperative that the coordination between the ordering platform, the kitchen and delivery platforms be seamless to enable a positive experience for the customer. By optimizing the kitchen, the restaurant can avoid making mistakes just by using a clear user interface that supports special notes from the customer (e.g. dressing on the side) and ensuring that the order is packed correctly with no missing items. Should any of these issues arise, it is up to the restaurant to provide a clear feedback systems so that they can mitigate any errors in real-time, either bringing customers updated orders as soon as possible or providing compensation (refunds, coupons, etc.) for that particular order or the next time the there is an order placed.

    Communication with the customers and maintaining loyalty has never been more important. Restaurants are in a unique position to continue to innovate and upgrade their infrastructure to ensure that their customers are getting the best experience possible.

    Ido Levanon is the CEO of Dragontail Systems. He has 20-plus years’ experience and a proven track record in successful management and turnaround of various international companies. He was CEO and a seed investor in several technology start-ups and a Financial Planning Manager for Fujitsu USA. Ido holds an MBA from San Diego University. He has been part of DT Israel since its inception in 2013 as one of the founding investors