In 2021, Deloitte Consulting's surveyed 1,000 restaurant customers about their expectations and comfort level. The report found that many people's dining habits haven't gone back to how they were before the pandemic started. In particular, the take-out and delivery business continues to be strong in the fast-casual and mid-scale dining segments.
61% of people said they order food delivery or take-out at least once a week. More than half of the people surveyed said they prefer to use an app to order their food. Deloitte has said that in 2022, customers will want convenience, safety, and digital services. Restaurants should focus on digital ordering technology and making sure the quality of take-out and delivery orders is good. This will help keep customers coming back. Industry consultants have talked about these trends and what restaurants need to do to focus on what's important to customers.
The Bet On Delivery and Take-out
Almost all customers expect convenience and speed when they order take-out or delivery. They believe that the food should come quickly and taste just as good as if they ate at a restaurant. If it takes longer than 30 minutes, more than three-quarters of respondents in the Deloitte study said it is unacceptable. This is the difficult part. People expect quick service, but this can be hard for an independent operator who is trying to balance orders for on-premises, take-out, and delivery. This is because there are not enough workers and the number of COVID cases is increasing. Delivery services have different levels of control over speed and convenience. When an order goes out, the driver might make several other stops before delivering the package. If food sits in the wrong packaging for too long, it will be cold, soggy, or unappetizing when it is delivered. Although this can be frustrating, operators have choices. They can restrict delivery to items that travel well, eschew third-party delivery services in favor of an in-house model, and invest in packaging that preserves the integrity of their menu. Making small choices, like the packaging you use to serve your food, can have a big impact on how your guests feel. If they have a positive experience, they are more likely to come back and visit again. You can test this by ordering food from your own restaurant and seeing how it arrives. This is an easy way to do quality control and ensure that your guests keep returning. As you would expect, people often prefer convenience when it comes to take-out food. This is why drive-thrus are becoming more popular. More than one-third of customers prefer this style of service. Drive-thrus have helped many operators accommodate increased take-out and delivery in 2020. They continue to be useful for this purpose.
However, very few independents offer drive-thru service. The right locations for this style of service are often premium spaces that quick-service chains fight for aggressively. But it is worth looking at the direction these concepts are heading, as they compete for consumer business. At some point, these technologies could make their way into independent restaurants.
Jim Balis, the managing director of strategic operations at CapitalSpring, thinks that quick-service drive-thru restaurants will start using "bots" and facial technology. 'Bots' – short for robots – are software programs that perform automated, repetitive, pre-defined tasks. Facial recognition features can recognize customers' faces and call up their past orders for a more seamless ordering experience.
A recent survey from Oracle Food & Beverage found that 43% of customers are more loyal to businesses that offer curbside pickup. 54% of customers said they would be likely to spend more money at a restaurant that offered this service.
Even though curbside pickup is appealing, it is not practical for restaurants to send someone outside to hand off every order. A number of independents started doing this early in the pandemic, but it is not very practical. It is better to have someone behind a mask who can be friendly and polite to the guests. This will create a valuable customer "touch point" that can drive repeat patronage.
However, with the pressure to turn orders around quickly with reduced staffing, some restaurants may have already started using pickup shelves or secure lockers. These are more efficient for employees; servers save time when they don't have to walk orders outside. Shelves and lockers are nearly as convenient for customers, who can grab their bagged order while maintaining social distance.
Virtual Hospitality For The Win
According to the Deloitte survey, only 11 percent of customers prefer to order through third-party delivery. Forty percent of customers prefer to use the restaurant's website or app when that's an option. This provides a clear takeaway for independent operators, as noted in Deloitte's report: "If restaurants give their customers a way to order directly from them, they will do so time and time again. Among the modernization tactics, brands should evaluate are investments in mobile applications and consistent cross-platform digital experiences."
Introducing your concept to new guests through a third-party delivery service is a good way to get them familiar with you. However, once they know about you, it is better to cut out the middleman and increase your revenue by having the right technology. Jean Chick, principal and U.S. restaurant & food service leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, says that the "highest order of business" for independent restaurant operators should be "maintaining a digital customer experience and visible safety protocols" built into the online ordering experience.
According to Chick, customers prefer apps because they can save their favorite orders. This makes it faster and more convenient for the customer to order. They feel that the restaurant knows them because their preferences are saved.
Apps that remember customers' favorite orders and digital loyalty programs make customers feel known and appreciated. When customers have a positive experience, they are more likely to order from you again.