Restaurant Mobile Capabilities No Longer Optional

Hospitality Technology – The use of mobile devices, especially smartphones, has dramatically changed diners’ habits before, during, and after the meal. Mobile technology’s ubiquity has expanded the number of new opportunities for restaurant operators to effectively influence their engagement with, and behavior of, their customers.

At MURTEC 2017, BRP recently led an interactive workshop on “Mobile-focused Omni-channel Strategies to Transform the Customer Experience.” Utilizing real-time polling to interact with and receive feedback from the attendees, this collaborative session gauged the “state of the state” of mobile usage and maturity among the audience members to understand customer engagement at all stages of the guest journey. BRP defines the restaurant journey as having eight contiguous stages: 1. Select, 2. Plan, 3. Arrive, 4. Order, 5. Entertain, 6. Pay, 7. Feedback and 8. Reward.

The evolution of dining consumer activity has shifted from a linear and singular flow to a more closed-loop and iterative process. No longer are visits to a restaurant brand or specific location made in a vacuum. Rather, each step of the dining experience is now part of an integrated “journey” — one that is increasingly influenced by mobile-oriented engagement.

The impact of mobile devices on the restaurant guest experience cannot be ignored, and restaurant operators must now think mobile first. Mobile devices, having exceeded desktop internet usage a few years ago, are now increasingly driving aggregate Internet usage in the United States. Restaurant operators agree that mobile technology, properly applied at each of the eight stages of the restaurant guest journey, can have a material and profitable effect on restaurant operations. The other key takeaway is that offering guests and servers mobile capabilities is now an imperative and is not optional.

According to a 2016 Deloitte study on next-generation restaurant customer experiences, mobile ordering inside a restaurant is less prevalent (44%) than online or mobile ordering done before visiting a restaurant (70%). In our poll, attendees noted slow adoption of consumer or server-based mobile ordering regardless of restaurant type, with more than half still not implementing mobile ordering solutions. When asked to name the best approach to providing ordering capability, the majority of operators said that dedicated mobile apps were better choices than mobile-optimized ordering websites. Attendees were quick to add that customers were interested in mobile app functions beyond just ordering — they want the ability to add items to an existing order (in the case of table service) and be able to pay an open check. This aligns with data from HT’s 2016 Customer Engagement Technology Study that reveals that 74% of diners will choose a restaurant based on whether it has a feature-rich, useful mobile app.

The session attendees unanimously voted that understanding mobile-oriented engagement is a critical component of their go-forward restaurant operations strategy and requires careful planning across all business and operational workflows. Servers and customers need proper training on new mobile processes to avoid the well-publicized operational issues experienced by early adopters (e.g. Starbucks).

One of the most interesting takeaways from the session was how many of the workshop attendees were already offering online ordering — 70% of attendees indicated that they offer either online ordering or both online ordering and online reservations. Some participants noted that they do not see this capability as optional, but as a required function to “stay in the game.” One restaurant operator indicated that they have experienced a 25% increase in transaction sizes created through online ordering, which aligns with BRP data.

There were some minor differences in what specific areas of mobile technology operators felt were most critical — mostly due to segment differences (e.g. QSR vs. fast casual vs. table service). All agreed that a mobile technology focus on the broader restaurant journey is imperative, realizing how intertwined the steps of the journey are in creating a satisfied customer experience.

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