One year ago we walked into a Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant for the first day of field research. Our palms were sweaty from the excitement and anxiety. We were greeted by the manager of the restaurant and shared with him the concept of contactless dining, an experience where dine-in guests can view menus, order, and pay directly from their mobile phones.
A second of silence passed before the manager’s response:
“You mean people will use their phones at the table? People come here to get away from technology, not use it.”
Rejection is always expected when new ideas are shared, but when we looked around the restaurant we saw most guests on their phones- taking pictures of their food, splitting checks through Venmo, sharing on social media. Those not on their phones, had them visibly on the table. The scene inside this particular restaurant completely contradicted what the restaurant manager told us, and represents a larger disconnect between guests and restaurants.
“A restaurant operating at the intersection of hospitality and technology can experience significant impact from increasing margins to enhancing the dining experience to streamlining operations.”
In the restaurant industry, proposing new technology is often met with resistance. One would think mixing technology and hospitality is like mixing oil and water… it doesn’t work. However, a restaurant operating at the intersection of hospitality and technology can experience significant impact from increasing margins to enhancing the dining experience to streamlining operations.
When point of sale (POS) systems were introduced, restaurants learned they could provide better service to guests and improve business decisions and management. With the advancement of POS systems, restaurant staff were able to spend more time attending to guests and restaurant owners were able to gain powerful tools like data-driven insight, financial reports, customer relationship management, inventory tracking, and operations management. Hospitality and technology worked together to build a better and more profitable restaurant experience for everyone.
Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic technology is once again disrupt the restaurant industry. States such as Massachusetts “encourage use of technological solutions where possible to reduce person-to-person interaction (e.g., contactless payment, mobile ordering, text on arrival for seating).” All states have guidelines to reduce contact, such as reducing capacity and utilizing disposable menus. Technology can be a powerful tool for restaurants to facilitate a safe yet high-margin business operation.
Practically all restaurants are working to provide a contactless dining experience to mitigate risks when reopening. For example, menus that get passed through countless hands are no longer needed, wasteful disposable menus are eliminated, and instead dynamic digital menus offer high-quality dish images and descriptions. Exchanging credit cards, pens, and receipts are things of the past. Credit cards are securely stored on devices and receipts with tax and tip are generated as people order.
Going out to eat with friends and family becomes easier when restaurants provide a contactless dining option for guests. Each person orders and pays on their own device and doesn’t have to transact payment, let alone worry about splitting the bill. In the long term, this capability encourages larger parties to dine at restaurants because accounting for the bill is no longer a problem. As guests eat, they can share dishes and gain rewards- this system results in free marketing, loyalty incentives, and guest-specific insights to improve operations.
According to a study, “a five-percent increase in customer retention produces more than a 25-percent increase in profit. Why? Return customers tend to buy more from a company over time.” The ability to stay connected with guests after they leave restaurants will be a powerful tool in providing hospitality and connection to a new extent. Text messages and notifications will give restaurants a direct bridge of communication to build stronger relationships and keep guests coming back.
Rebuilding a business is not easy, but to ensure lasting service restaurants will need to genuinely reevaluate whether they align to the needs and expectations of their guests.
On top of providing a customer-centric experience with contactless dining, restaurants will see higher margins from sales, too. Many contactless dining services don’t charge restaurants, unlike the high commissions that come with third-party delivery apps. Having in-house mobile order and payment capabilities can lower overhead and increase table turnover to maximize margins and sales with or without capacity restrictions.
As restaurants bounce back, contactless dining has the potential to become not only a facilitator of safety, but of convenience. Apart from the food itself, the experience restaurants provide guests is what makes or breaks the business. Rebuilding a business is not easy, but to ensure lasting service restaurants will need to genuinely reevaluate whether they align to the needs and expectations of their guests.
Young people are tech-savvy food enthusiasts with a grown an affinity toward food delivery companies who offer convenience, instant information, and social engagement through technology. With contactless dining, those values are brought inside the restaurant where higher margins and memorable experiences can be consistent.
Contactless dining is a tool for long-term growth in the restaurant industry. It leverages the innovation of technology to enhance the indispensable genuineness of hospitality. Guest and staff safety, targeted communication, and higher margins are only some of the many benefits that come with adopting contactless dining.