COVID-19 Highlights Need For A Balance Of Tech And Service

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology across hospitality, CGA research shows—but consumers aren’t ready to give up the face-to-face aspect of service when they eat and drink out.

CGA’s latest BrandTrack survey reveals that nearly a quarter (23%) of people have ordered via their phone since the end of lockdown, while 7% have used a tablet provided by their venue. Two in five (40%) consumers now think that using technology to book, order and pay forms part of a good experience in pubs, bars and restaurants.

The evolution of technology has been particularly apparent in the drinking-out sector—especially among young adults. A third (32%) of 18 to 34 year-olds told the BrandTrack survey that they would prefer to order drinks on their phone now—highlighting the need for operators and suppliers to work together to optimise digital drinks menus.

The integration of technology into the customer journey has been one of the most interesting side-effects of the pandemic,” says CGA’s research and insight director Charlie Mitchell. “For younger consumers in particular, efficient app ordering and payment has become an essential part of the experience. This makes digital menu design and communications crucial, and operators and suppliers will need to work together to upsell and maximise spend.”

But there are also signs that some consumers are reverting to previous methods of ordering. Numbers preferring to access menus via mobile apps have nearly halved from 30% to 17% between the June and August editions of the BrandTrack survey, while those favouring traditional menus have more than doubled, from 11% to 28%—possibly reflecting the growing confidence that consumers have in the hygiene standards of venues. There are indications that people still value interaction with staff, with a third (35%) of 18 to 34 year-olds preferring to order in this way now.

The latest Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth meanwhile shows industry leaders have responded quickly to the demand for technology. Nearly half (46%) of respondents said technology had been a major focus in their plans for safely reopening after lockdown, and the vast majority said it was either fundamental (28%) or important (66%) in the current market.

Operators’ new booking, ordering and payment solutions have been well received, and the changes they’ve prompted in consumer behaviour are going to last well beyond the pandemic,” says Charlie Mitchell. “But it’s also clear that face-to-face service remains a fundamental part of eating and drinking out. The shift in ordering from bar to table highlights the need to adapt service styles, understand people’s preferences and blend digital and physical elements to create an even better experience for consumers.”