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    Restaurant Automation Takes an Omnichannel Approach

  • The reasoning is simple, whether we look at customer engagement or customer experience, convenience is key.

    Unsplash/Andrew Neel
    Regardless of whether its strategy is based off demand or desire, the quick-service restaurant market continues to be one of the most innovative segments in the retail industry.

    The quick-service restaurant industry is no stranger to change. Built on the concept of speed in delivery, quick-serves are in a constant phase of improving their process through automation. However, over the past several years for both restaurants and retail in general, the focus on being competitive through “customer experience” has brought about a new type of automation in quick service and the result is an omnichannel approach to servicing customers.

    The key in achieving an omnichannel strategy is heavily dependent on IoT solutions; connected and smart technology to deploy systems like self-order terminals, interactive menu boards, drive-thru automated kiosk and self-serve locker delivery systems. As the behavior of consumers continues to evolve into this personalized experience, where customers shop when they want and how they want; the quick-service restaurant industry has certainly accommodated them at every turn.

    The reasoning is simple, whether we look at customer engagement or customer experience, in quick service, convenience is key. When it comes to ordering, the segment covers all its bases, in-store, drive thru, self-order kiosk, online, mobile app, advanced order, etc. And, getting your food is no different either with table side service, advanced order parking spots where food is brought to your car and even food delivery service to your front door, the engagement that quick-serves have with their customer is the epitome of omnichannel strategies. As a benefit, automating the mundane task of simply getting an order entered opens new channels of sales and marketing that weren’t even fathomable just a few years ago.

    Frictionless retail is another concept that has made its way into the industries jargon. What used to be deemed as simply making things easier or smoother has turned into a concept of frictionless by removing all barriers. In the context of automation and omnichannel approach, frictionless retail is emphasized more in the payment world where transactions have gone from cash, to credit, to contactless. Mobile pay, mobile wallets and electronic gift cards have made it even easier to consolidate your payment methods and simplify the task of sorting through your different forms of payment.

    With personal mobile devices, quick-service restaurants have already moved beyond the simple use of apps for ordering and payment. With registered accounts for loyalty and rewards, consumer behavior and account balances are being tracked to provide suggestive purchases—“try the new pumpkin spice latte on your next weekend visit.” This digitalization in restaurants is becoming more common, as brands are keen to improve efficiency and retain customer loyalty. Today’s consumers live on their mobile devices through social media. Therefore, brands can no longer rely on a traditional print or “blast” strategy, as customers are looking to make immediate dining decisions when eating out.

    The next generation of buyers and decision-makers have grown up with technology at their fingertips, so it’s essential to integrate it into more aspects of their customer journey. By utilizing these technologies, restaurants can ensure they are providing the best possible experience to suit the needs of their future customer base.

    Automation in ordering is also being implemented in drive thrus. These automated drive thrus, using an interactive kiosk or mobile app, eliminate the customer’s need to wait for an available attendant to take their order. By utilizing a touch screen, customers can place their order and ensure it’s exactly to their liking. In fact, Sonic has announced testing voice-activated self order stations, which should improve speed of service and order accuracy, while also freeing up workers to provide improved hospitality.

    Some restaurant chains are way ahead of the game and have eliminated the need for a customer to ever interact with an employee, at any point during their in-store experience. For example, Wow Bao, a Chicago-based Asian fast-casual restaurant, has taken the omnichannel approach to new levels. In the fully automated restaurant, customers can go cashless and order from a kiosk or through the app. Afterwards, their food is prepared and placed in a numbered locker compartment that corresponds with their receipt. Throughout the experience, the customer has zero interactions with an employee as they order, pay or pick-up their food. These fully automated restaurants do more than streamline the ordering process; they ensure that the customer experience is just as consistent as it is convenient.

    Modern data collection capabilities are allowing quick-service brands to personalize the customer’s in-store and out-of-store experience. Restaurants are adopting digital menu boards capable of using predictive analytics, allowing them to be updated based on the current weather, location, season, etc. For instance, if you go through a McDonald’s drive thru in Hawaii, the automated menu boards may feature more hot beverage options or coffee on an unseasonably cold or rainy day. Or, menu boards will instantaneously change from breakfast to lunch suggestions at the appropriate time of day, eliminating the need of asking what is available.

    Regardless of whether its strategy is based off demand or desire, the quick-service restaurant market continues to be one of the most innovative segments in the retail industry. In true form they are fully embracing omnichannel through automation and application. In some respect, brands have always known to encourage and cater customers to "be your way" and for a person with a vested interest in the industry, "I'm lovin’ it.”

    Edward Roberto is the vertical sales manager for Retail and iCity Solutions at Advantech. Over the last eight years, through custom kiosk development and manufacturing, Roberto has helped companies in retail, service, cybersecurity and the finance industries deploy self-service solutions to effectively scale their operations.