By Danilo Mangano, General Manager Europe, SevenRooms (www.sevenrooms.com)
With a new national lock- down in place until at least early March, many hospitality operators are wondering when normal operations will return, and how best they can chart a course back towards
‘business as usual’ in the months ahead. Despite a near-constant cycling of restrictions over the last 10 months causing challenges for the sector, there are positive indicators that a post-pandemic recovery is possible. In the periods when restaurants have been allowed to reopen – albeit with capacity controls and restrictions – there has been significant demand from customers for in-venue dining experiences. When going through a lockdown, as is currently the case, those operators who have pivoted quickly towards online ordering and takeaway have fared best.
The watchword for the hospitality sector in 2021 will be flexibility, regardless of how long COVID restrictions and guidelines remain.That flexibility will be increasingly powered by technology as we move beyond the pandemic.The best restaurants have always been nimble in terms of their food and drink offerings, and those owners and head chefs are no stranger to adapting menus and specials around shifting tastes and available supplies. Now, in both the immediate future and from a longer-term perspective, operators need to leverage tech enhance- ments to provide even more flexibility when it comes to their existing services and offerings.
Top of mind for operators today is online ordering and takeaway. Before COVID hit, this accounted for around 10% of a restaurant’s business, but at the height of lockdown in 2020, that number jumped to between 80-90%.With another lockdown in place, the same surge is happening.Those operators who can facilitate online ordering are protecting revenue while collecting valuable data on their customers that can be used to remarket to them down the line. As customers become increasingly comfortable with online ordering, it should be on the minds of all operators as a long-term priority this year and beyond.
Wherever possible, venues must look to imple- ment technology solutions that will facilitate online ordering, collection and delivery services directly, rather than relying extensively, or even exclusively, on third parties. Direct online ordering capabilities ensure that venues can maintain guest relationships, even with those guests who are not comfortable returning to in-venue dining, or who may prefer to dine at home.Whether it’s an app-based solution or ‘click and collect’ via a website, venues must be mindful that a sizeable proportion of business will exist online and off-premise in 2021 and beyond. If they are not there to take advantage or don’t have a system in place that helps them facilitate the capturing and leveraging of data to drive repeat business, competitor operations will do so instead.
As venues reopen, greater incorporation of con- tactless ordering and payments will become a ‘need- to-have’ for venues rather than a ‘nice-to-have’. Many restaurants have either introduced or scaled- up their contactless offerings during the pandemic to limit customer interactions and reduce cashandling. They may also have seen the benefit of increased guest spend that studies have shown can be a by-product of contactless payments. Moving forward, contactless systems will make it easy for restaurants to track spending habits across multiple visits – and, for those businesses with more than one location, multiple sites.The data insights offered will help operators to develop a better understanding of how much customers are spending and what they’re frequently buying, making it simple to create bespoke offers or promotions to tempt customers back for another visit.
Similarly, the flexibility to be able to serve a dynamic menu on a personal device to each guest that enters your restaurant will become hugely important for operators in the future. Shaped by data insights gained from previous visits, a dynamic menu could highlight certain customer favourites or push taste-based recommendations – all the while hiding dishes containing allergens or disliked dishes. With the ability to update in real-time, dynamic menus can also be changed based on stock levels in the kitchen, meaning no more guest disappointment at being told the special they just ordered has sold out.
Technology impacts the guest journey on multiple levels already, but it will increasingly do so at each stage of the guest journey in the future – from reservations and waitlists, to table management and takeaway, to post-visit marketing communications and beyond. In the increasingly competitive market of tomorrow, restaurateurs must have the capabilities to reach their guests in the right way at the right time. By taking a tech-enabled flexible approach, the ability to boost customer spend and make the most out of every dining experience could prove to be crucial.