By Sachin Dev Duggal, Co-Founder & CEO, Builder.ai
On the 12th of April, the scene around the UK was quite different than it’s been for the last several months. With lockdown restrictions easing, outdoor dining and drinking were once again legally allowed in restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars all across the UK.Wherever you looked, you could see people outside enjoying being part of society again and having a good time with friends and family.
But the excitement to get back into the social scene was seen a month before Boris Johnson’s proposed date for the easing of lockdown restrictions.To that effect, restaurants, pubs and bars experienced a significant surge in demand, with many taking thousands of bookings over the course of 24 hours. Meanwhile, data from TheFork reveals that there has been an 88 percent surge in outdoor bookings.
While this is great news, it’s also sure to throw the owners of these establishments off their game, as socially-starved people flock to book tables at their favourite restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars. But as many hospitality venues don’t take reservations ahead of time, that means that hordes of people will be showing up without a reservation and ready to wait (sometimes for up to an hour or more) to get a seat and enjoy the onsite dining experience like they once did pre-pandemic.
No one will argue that technology has been useful during the repeated lockdowns in the UK.When physical locations had to close their doors to keep in line with government rules, hospitality venues had to pivot and move their businesses online to make it easy for their customers to order for takeaway and delivery. But now that life is slowly, and hopefully surely, showing signs of resuming back to normal, technology will play a somewhat different, but still important, role in helping the hospitality industry get back on its financial feet, while also keeping its long-standing customers happy and safe.
CLEAN UP THE MESSINESS OF THE TRADITIONAL QUEUEING EXPERIENCE
While it can be great to book reservations for a table at your favourite restaurant, cafe, pub or bar, it’s not always possible.Whether it’s because plans are made last-minute or people simply forgot to book a reservation in advance, it’s quite common for people to show up without a reservation – eager to get seated quickly and enjoy the social atmosphere. For restaurants, on the other hand, that take online reservations in advance, no-shows pose both an operational and financial challenge.
What results are long waiting times (and lists) and a highly disorganized front-of-house experience.This can be extremely frustrating for customers, especially ones who have been loyal for years, as they find themselves waiting around amidst hordes of other customers and struggling to hear if their name will be called out (or for their shared buzzer to light up) as next in line for a table.The words ‘messy’ and ‘disorganized’ come to mind. But beyond that, it could also damage the establishment’s reputation with both loyal and first-time customers, which could lead to lost sales and revenue down the line.
This is where technology can be tremendously useful in making the queueing experience far less disorganised, confusing and miserable. Rather than rely on the old-school approach of writing down the names of customers and arrival times into a physical book, calling out customers’ names once their tables are available and hoping customers hear their name and don’t leave out of frustration, hospitality establishments can host a virtual queueing app that simplifies the onsite queueing experience, provides a clear window into waiting times and sends digital notifications when their tables are ready.And for those restaurants that accommodate online reservations, but get stuck with repeated no- shows, a virtual queueing app allows the business to handle such scenarios effectively and to be able to turn those no-show tables into bookings.
While this is a positive experience for customers, there are clear benefits for hospitality establishments too. For one, it will help hospitality staff stay more organized and ensure that tables are seated responsibly and in accordance with social distancing rules. On top of that, it will allow hospitality businesses to attract more walk-in customers and not have to worry that they’ll be turned off by the large crowds of customers wait- ing for their tables. It will also allow the business to turn over tables more efficiently, thus generating more sales week after week. And when that happens, hospitality businesses, especially the smaller, independent ones owned by entrepreneurs, will be better positioned to get back on their financial feet and thrive post-pandemic.
MINIMIZE THE RISKS OF COVID-19 EXPOSURE FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS AND STAFF
As hospitality establishments are opening back up, the risk of COVID- 19 infections could easily rise again given that people will be getting up close and personal with each other. And so, social distancing rules (and masks) will be even more important.
But as life (and dining) will soon resume back to what it was during pre-pandemic times, technology will be essential to keeping both customers and hospitality staff safe. How many times have you been in the situation where you’re crammed in the small reception area of a restaurant (or directly outside) next to dozens of other people? For most of us, this has happened and will happen a lot. But in these COVID-19 times, that is a very dangerous scenario and will certainly lead to violations of social distancing rules, putting people at higher risk of contract- ing the virus.
With the use of technology, hospitality businesses can replace this disorganized, dangerous queueing experience with something that can be accessed remotely via mobile devices, is easy to use and lets customers wait at home (or wherever is most convenient) until their table is ready. No waiting in crowded reception areas, less risk of infection and a far better customer experience. For hospitality establishments, this will go a long way to cementing customer trust and loyalty, which will result in more bookings, repeat business and long-term revenue growth.
Free up hospitality staff’s time to focus on customers’ needs
Customers can be extremely finicky and have high expectations for the dining experience.They want and expect short waiting times, attentive service and an overall positive experience. But when any of these expectations aren’t met, diners can be unforgiving.This is likely to be amplified significantly currently, as diners have been deprived of the in-person social interactions and atmosphere they enjoyed pre-pandemic.
So as people rush back to their favourite restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars, restaurant staff are likely to see a rapid influx of foot traffic into their venues.This can cause confusion, delays and frustration, which can be made far more difficult if staff are too overwhelmed managing the queueing experience.Their attention should be focused on serving their customers’ needs, making the experience as simple, convenient and enjoyable as possible.That’s where technology, such as a virtual queueing system, can be incredibly helpful and can result in increased customer satisfaction, loyalty (repeat business) and revenue growth.