How to Improve Digital Ordering as a Bar or Restaurant

By George Ioannou, Managing Partner at Foolproof, a Zensar company (www.foolproof.co.uk)

The appetite to eat out and socialise again gained momentum when lockdown restrictions were lifted in England. But with yet more uncertainty around the festive season and bookings in a state of flux, how can restaurateurs ensure they are in the best possible shape to navigate their way through?

Adding the wow factor and engaging with guests is critical as hospitality has taken a real hit with many struggling to survive and revenues expected to fall by around 33%.

For safety reasons – predominantly social distancing – many local pubs and high-end restaurants alike have become reliant on digital shortcuts to capture and process orders. In many instances, these are hacks, quickly introduced, with time being of the essence, and therefore lacking the data and insight that can be captured from testing with real users.

This means the digital experience of ordering at table, now very much a part of the overall dining out experience, is laden with friction, causing untold frustration for customers.A piece of recent research* we commissioned indicated that over 40% of people prefer to place an order via an app in a restaurant, yet very few people want to download applications or set up new accounts to order a drink without an exchange of value e.g. sign up for an account with us and you’ll receive ten percent off your round.

Unless these experiences improve, customers won’t continue to adopt them. If a digital ordering experience is too difficult to navigate and fails to enhance, or complement the overall dining or drinking experience, customers may go elsewhere, simply stay at home or maintain their reliance on the age-old convention of ordering from employees.

Yet ordering via conventional means erodes the opportunity to provide a more streamlined experience by automating processes. Perhaps even more importantly, it also doesn’t free up employees to offer a more premium service in other areas, and create the experience diners are craving.Two potential areas of cost optimisation or value creation.

WHAT CAN BARS AND RESTAURANTS DO TO IMPROVE DIGITAL ORDERING EXPERIENCES?

Having run an external poll* and conducted pieces of insight and strategy for leading restaurant and bar chains on their ‘at table’ digital ordering solutions, we’ve put together our top tips for brands wanting to nail the digital ordering experience.

PROVIDE OPTIONS

Many consumers have been forced into gaining experience with technology since the pandemic hit. Although unsettling at first, repeated use has built a level of newfound confidence in basic processes when using both the device and platforms.

However, for those still adjusting to the digital shift, anything outside of two to three user journeys and an experience can become overwhelming. In our experience, it’s all about providing options and not solely relying on digital.

To avoid excluding those who may struggle to navigate a digital experience, or the guests who simply prefer to talk to the front of house team, there has to be an alternative in place. Businesses must leave a place for table service, or ordering at the bar. More and more pubs, including London’s famous Blind Beggar in Whitechapel have introduced “Request service” buttons to overcome this issue and serve those with confidence or capability issues.

A CENTRALISED PLATFORM

The most common source of annoyance for those heading out to bars and restaurants is having to download (yet another) app.With a centralised platform to consolidate digital ordering at the table, you can provide a cohesive experience while developing something of your own.

This could come in the form of browser-based pages, progressive web apps (smaller, lighter, and downloadable versions of web pages), or full-blown iOS/Android applications.

Each of these approaches work well for chains who have the ability to develop their own centralised platform.White-label platforms also exist that can benefit smaller players, but are often basic.

Your Round appears to be getting it right, with one poll respondent saying: “The best in-app ordering experience I had was using Your Round. Of all the apps I’ve used, it’s by far the most straightforward and doesn’t want me to sign away my life.”

Another idea is to form alliances with other bars/restaurants (five major groups own most of the pubs in London for instance) and agree to fund a shared platform. Uber Eats, Just Eat and Deliveroo are exploring new avenues and partnerships too.

DO RIGHT BYYOUR CUSTOMERS

In a social setting, ordering through digital can be inherently anti-social, and often stunts a conversation. That’s complicated by it not working at all, or forcing people to follow a convoluted process.

One poll respondent said:“…QR codes that take you to static pdf menus are not user friendly and the design isn’t equitable.The text is tiny, doesn’t appear all at once and requires a high level of dexterity to navigate. These menus have served a purpose during the pandemic, but need to adapt quickly to account for all user needs.”

Another said: “There’s lots of really poor apps/sites, I guess a consequence of having to rush out solutions whilst being inexperienced in doing so.”

The right ordering experience won’t cost your business the earth, yet the wrong one might. Start by asking your customers what they want from an experience. What will best suit their needs? And take a look at your competition as well as other adjacent experiences e.g. what does the world of online grocery, or ecommerce get right? Using this insight to form a strategy for your experience means you won’t stray far from the perfect solution.

You also don’t want to overload your experience (browser-based or app) with features.While in a pub, ordering drinks and food is often all your customers will want to do. Unless you’re introducing a loyalty scheme, or an exchange e.g. discounts, don’t make your customers sign up for anything that is not providing value to the experience.

THE BOTTOM LINE

If bars and restaurants push for a fully digital service, loyalty will be lost. Customers want and, for those without the confidence or ability to navigate current experiences, need an alternative.Without options, you’re going to marginalise large segments of your customer-base.

Novel “service” buttons akin to Bob Bob Ricard’s famous “press for champagne buttons” provide a low- cost alternative.Whereas introducing self-service screens at tables, like McDonalds, could work for others. Regardless of the solution, now is the time to think carefully about the future of ordering as a bar or restaurant.

Digital is likely to play a part in future dining and drinking experiences.Try not to think of it as a handicap or fad. It could be the making of your brand, and something it will become renowned for.