Due to the pandemic, restaurants have had to become more agile and provide customers with a more personalised and seamless experience
After a year tainted by disruptions, closures and unprecedented challenges, the restaurant franchising sector is now expecting to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.
On 17 May when consumers were able to eat again indoors, food sales were up 30 per cent compared to the equivalent Monday in 2019, according to data from research consultancy CGA. Despite ongoing social distancing, this is a very welcome step on the roadmap to recovery and reassuring news both in terms of confidence and sales for the hospitality industry. But a restaurant’s brand is no longer only just about providing good food in a clean venue with reasonable prices. It’s about creating memorable customer experiences that produce customer loyalty and can constantly deliver engaging, memorable experiences that drive a connection to the brand at every touchpoint.
From fast food through to fast casual and fine dining, restaurant franchises are now having to reconsider their customer experience across all their services, whether that be delivery, takeaway or dine-in. They need to stay in tune with what matters to their customers and alter their experiences accordingly, for example lowering menu prices, offering incentives or digital ordering and payment.
Sanjeev Sanghera, Döner Shack’s co-founder and managing director, explains how the ball is now in their court - and that all restaurant brands need to adapt and provide a new standard in customer convenience, responsiveness and safety as the post-pandemic world takes shape.
“This past year has been a challenge for the restaurant industry globally, but it has also given us the opportunity to innovate and find new ways to serve our customers. As proven by the pandemic, restaurants have had to become more agile and provide customers with a more personalised and seamless experience,” he says.
After a year in which takeout and delivery has thrived - nearly half (46 per cent) of UK households ordered meals for delivery in the past year (World Foods Category report 2020), up from 30 per cent in 2019 – customers now want and expect a convenient experience, where they can get their food on their terms in the quickest and most efficient way possible. The temporary closure of in-restaurant dining, coupled with safety concerns, was a key factor that required customers to focus even more on convenience, eager for drive-through, takeout and delivery as an alternative option.
Ultimate convenience and engagement are critical for restaurant franchises to ensure the customer journey is seamless at each stage. For fast-casual restaurants, such as Döner Shack, digital integration with store designs and mobile technology is the future - making the entire customer experience integrated.
To succeed in post-pandemic times, restaurant franchises must look at technology as a consumer-experience enabler. Takeaway apps such as Just Eat and Deliveroo have been convenient for many people throughout the lockdowns, but now is the time to bring customers back to restaurant brand loyalty rather than delivery app loyalty, using the excitement of socialising and in-dining experiences again.
Increased digital offerings
The pandemic has inevitably taken away some personal elements out of the typical restaurant experience but, like most businesses, the sector has experienced rapid digital acceleration. For those franchises that have a strong digital presence, such as online, mobile ordering or a digital loyalty programme, they should have seen a rise in engagement with their customers over the past year.
Consumers will continue to demand digital engagement from restaurant brands, with cutting-edge technology options that give a personalised engaging experience, such as recognising them and knowing their preferences for food and drink. They want a consistent digital experience across all possible touchpoints, whether delivery, drive-through, apps or website and brands should offer a uniform user experience.
The restaurant industry is set for technological innovation, from digital menus to tableside ordering and customer engagement apps. This will transform the dining experience to match new customer trends. To accommodate these trends, restaurant franchises must invest in new technology to make a more frictionless ordering process, especially when it comes to ordering through a smartphone app.
Döner Shack is implementing several new customer engagement software solutions into its business to manage the interactions and communication with customers via a number of touchpoints, as well as help guide them through the customer journey. For example, there is a new loyalty app and also a ‘Click & Collect’ area so that people coming into the restaurant can engage with the brand whether they are eating in, collecting a takeaway or ordering a delivery online. Döner Shack has also integrated delivery partners’ platforms into its website so that it can retain direct contact with customers at all times.
Changing restaurant space
With the growth of takeout and delivery, many restaurants have had to review their design and inside space and, in some cases, reduce the footprint of their dining room in order to set aside a larger area for cooking and preparing orders. Some are even swapping to the ghost-kitchen model, using their kitchens to prepare food for pickup and delivery without a physical dining room.
Innovation and automation, such as robotics, are also playing a key role in kitchens to create a more efficient, safe and easy place to work - Döner Shack is already pioneering the way forward as a fast-casual restaurant franchise and has implemented state-of-the-art robotic kebab cutters in its kitchens to help reduce food preparation time and food waste.
Creating a simple and seamless experience for customers is top of mind in its restaurant designs, several of which are due to launch over the next few months in Manchester, Leicester and Glasgow. One example is a dedicated window for Click & Collect at the front of the restaurants so customers won’t even need to enter the premises - technically a ‘walk-thru’ version of a drive-thru concept.
We ensure the journey and experience for our customers is as quick, seamless and customer-friendly as possible at each stage. We want to avoid long queues in a post-pandemic era and separate our sit-in diners from our delivery and click & collect customers, enabling Döner Shack customers to have an elevated and personal level of service in whatever way they choose to interact with us.
In a post-pandemic world, cleanliness and safety will be customers’ main concern. They’ll want brands to be transparent with their policies and see the proof of those policies in action. They expect to see signs placed on tables that have been sanitised, hand sanitising stations and employees wearing masks for some time to come.
It’s not only important to provide a safe environment but to also reassure potentially anxious customers that there are cleaning procedures in place. By making sure new hygiene and safety protocols are highly visible throughout the restaurant signals to customers how seriously management takes that responsibility and builds trust in a brand. And customers are more likely to eat out and return to restaurants they trust.
As the post-pandemic world takes shape, the outlook for restaurants is strong and the industry will thrive again. Restaurant franchises can’t afford to remain stagnant and the actions they take now will go a long way towards preparing their restaurants to serve customers, not just during but also long after the recovery. With the increasing availability of vaccines giving us light at the end of the tunnel, brands will need to continually evolve and innovate their service, menu and experience to stay relevant and connect with their customers.
Sanjeev Sanghera is the co-founder and managing director of Döner Haus and Döner Shack. With over 25 years of experience, Sanjeev is a leading restaurant entrepreneur with a business that is growing internationally, including North America, Europe and The Middle East.