As the restaurant industry has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the major changes has been that drive thru, already the most important sales channel at many brands, has become even more prominent. Yet while operating high-volume drive thrus may be business-as-usual for many brands, doing so during a health crisis is anything but normal.
“Restaurants have to be conscious that processes have changed, probably for the long term,” says Josh Knapp, sales lead at Advantech. “Because consumers now want contactless service and guests and staff both expect to see protective measures, restaurants are having to do more with less. But even with these constraints, technology is making it possible for restaurants to keep up and actually increase customer satisfaction.”
Yet managing customer satisfaction is a challenge. Gina Yang, product manager at Advantech says that in many regions, including her home state of California, restaurant dining rooms still haven’t reopened, so restaurants are having to get creative to improve service.
“The drive-thru lines are extremely long, so many brands are looking for ways to speed up drive thru times,” Yang says. “One way they are doing that is by making curbside pickup more available.”
Along with drive thru, curbside pickup has risen in popularity over the past few years, but it has seen explosive growth amid the pandemic. While it offers the potential for touchless service, curbside pickup can still be an inefficient process if brands don’t find ways to streamline operations.
Rather than require guests to enter the restaurant to pick up an order, Yang suggests brands embrace touchless outdoor kiosks with voice-activated controls that can take orders, let guests pay without handing a card over to an employee, and notify team members when orders should be delivered to a customer’s car. Meanwhile, kiosks can drive added efficiency by communicating with displays in the kitchen to let staff know when to begin preparing orders.
Yang and Knapp both note these same AI technologies can also be applied to the drive thru to improve speed of service. For example, Yang says brands can use AI automation and voice commands to implement contactless ordering and payment, rather than the typical pay-by-card method. Additionally, AI can help drive sales in new ways.
“Technology has progressed so that we can now give restaurants tools like license plate recognition so brands can make recommendations based on buying patterns,” Knapp says. “Or we can help them look at facial recognition to figure out what customers are feeling as they move through the drive thru, so we can help them understand their challenges or recommend products to fit customers’ moods, such as coffee when someone is tired or ice cream when they are sad.”
While no one knows exactly how the pandemic will play out, it’s certain that it has changed how consumers interact with quick-service brands, and it will leave a lasting impression on the industry. Yet no matter what issues a restaurant faces during this national crisis, technology can help brands find ways to improve service and ultimately drive much-needed sales.
“Restaurants can leverage technology to understand and solve all these challenges that have always been important but are even more critical now,” Knapp says. “Advantech has been a leader in this space for 37 years, and we are using that foundation to help quick-service restaurants improve guest service. We can work with customers on anything they can dream up or help them find cost-effective solutions to their problems. We’re ready to be a partner, no matter what challenges restaurants are facing.”
By Peggy Carouthers