Restaurants turn to a new strategy to boost customer experience.

Sponsored by Apex Supply Chain Technologies.

Today’s customers demand greater speed and convenience from quick-service restaurants than ever before. Driven largely by younger millennial and Gen Z diners who prefer the speed and ease of ordering via a mobile app, the industry is increasing the level of convenience services they can offer to support their customers’ increasingly busy lives.

One of the biggest ways the industry is transforming is in how customers place and receive their orders. Today’s tech-savvy customers don’t want to wait in line—whether it’s to place orders or pickup food inside the restaurant or in the drive thru. As a result, strategies allowing customers to skip the line are quickly growing in popularity and can involve mobile apps, ordering kiosks and in-store pick-up.

“We’re in the throes of what may be the most profound shift in customer behavior ever,” says Kent Savage, founder and CEO of Apex Supply Chain. “Customers are so conscious of their time and everything they do. Streamlining the ordering and pick-up processes with self-serve technology makes it easier for them to get in and out of a restaurant quickly and it’s more cost-effective for businesses.”

Despite the convenience of skipping the line, however, the traditional pick-up process requiring order-ahead customers to enter the restaurant and wait until their orders are ready at the counter has its own inefficiencies. For example, many customers are unsure of where they should go when they arrive at a restaurant to pick up a mobile order, leading to discomfort. Diners also usually receive an estimate window of when their food and beverages are ready, so even when signs point out where diners should pick-up their orders, they often have to join waiting in-house diners in standing near the counter. The same is true for customers ordering from in-store kiosks. It all causes congestion around one of the most important customer touchpoints and can cause frustration for other waiting guests.

This inefficient pick-up model also places more burden on staff who must manage the often- conflicting needs of in-house diners and pick-up customers. They must also call out orders when they are ready for customers who may or may not be onsite yet. And since pick-up is the last and often only impression guests who dine off-premises have of a restaurant, it doesn’t make sense to allow this experience to be a bad one.

Because of these frustrations, some restaurants are turning to a new pick-up model: self-serve, automated order pick-up systems. These purpose-built devices provide a convenient option for any foodservice organization, from quick-service and fast casual restaurants, to entertainment venues, corporate and academic foodservice.

When an order is ready, these two-sided locker-like cubbies allow crewmembers to load food from the back of the system. Customers receive an alert that their food has been placed inside. Instead of an estimate of when the order will be completed, they are sent a pick-up code or QR code when their order is ready. They use this code to open the secure compartment with their order inside. This ensures customers always get the right order and eliminate the possibility of tampering or shrink.

While the traditional order pick-up process still requires customers talk to someone at the counter, Savage says, an order pick-up locker system further decreases the need for human interaction. This keeps customers happy and creates more efficiencies in the restaurant. “The employee-to-customer hand off creates needless complexity, requiring everything be synchronized between these two people,” he says. “Order pick-up lockers eliminate this issue. I can put the order into the compartment for pick up, and you can pick it up when you’re ready.” This helps employees handle more orders while reducing the amount of profit-shrinking order touches.

Customers also like using order pick-up lockers. Savage says that Apex has surveyed customers using the company’s lockers and more than 95 percent said they would use them again. Between improving customer experience and boosting restaurant efficiency, a locker pick-up system can drive results.

“Automating order pick-up with self-serve locker systems is more cost-effective than traditional pick-up methods,” Savage says. “A lot of restaurants have mobile apps driving demand. Others are deploying in-store kiosks but once customers have placed their orders and are ready to pick them up, there’s nothing that really addresses workflow issues like this. And if you’ve already ordered and paid but still have to wait in line to pick up your order, what’s the point?”

Using self-serve technology to address order pick-up issues is a clear solution to issues like line confusion. And as restaurants continue to automate order pick-up, the industry is sure to build upon this innovation and continue to increase the level of speed and convenience it provides customers.

By Peggy Carouthers

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