Last year, a Japanese restaurant opened in Bonifacio Global City that drew attention for reasons other than the food. For starters, diners don’t need to interact with waitstaff to place their orders. Each dining table is equipped with an iPad that customers can use to key in their preferred dishes. The food isn’t delivered to them by a waiter either. It’s loaded onto a a miniature train that then travels tableside so that diners can off-load their orders themselves.And when they’re done with their meal, customers can again use the iPad to get their total and ask for the bill.
If you think that’s high-tech, consider this: there’s a restaurant in London where you can place your orders using the interactive tabletop; there’s one in China where the waitstaff are all robots; and in Japan, a manufacturer has developed a self-driving chair that automatically moves people along restaurant qeueus.
While these quirky features may be novelties now, Deloitte predicts that this won’t be the case for long. In “The Restaurant of the Future: Creating the next-generation customer experience,” experts from Deloitte Consulting discuss the digital and customer trends that are shaping the way restaurants—particularly quick service, fast casual, and casual dining eateries—will operate in the near future.
Because of advances in digital technology and the ubiquitousness of mobile access, people have come to expect certain conveniences when running their usual errands or accomplishing their daily tasks. The same goes for their dining experiences. The personalization, loyalty tracking, and no-touch transactions that they’ve long enjoyed in the retail sector are now being adopted by more and more restaurant chains.
As restaurants consider ways by which they can adopt these innovations and improve their customer experience, Deloitte lays down some signposts so that restaurant owners don’t get lost in the endless possibilities available to them.
Know your customers
For Deloitte’s report on the restaurant of the future, the team surveyed 3,000 millennials; approximately 1,500 people who frequently (two or more times a week) visited quick service restaurants, and fast casual/casual dining locations; and over 20 restaurant industry executives. They found that the next-generation customer is—in general terms—values-driven, hyper-connected, health conscious, tech-savvy, social, collaborative, and time-starved.
Deloitte also found that if a restaurant lets customers use technology to place an order, they will come back 6 percent more often and spend 20 percent more each time. And 70 percent of the survey respondents look for apps that deliver personalized offers and convey the sense that the restaurant “knows them.”
To get more specific insights about who your customers are, you can use labs, surveys, and focus groups. Listening—to social media, to sales data, and even to customers when they’re standing in front of you across the counter—can also help sharpen your knowledge and allow you to develop an innovation strategy that caters to your customers’ specific needs.
Another important factor to consider before innovating is your brand’s “personality”. Who are you as a brand, as a host, as an employer? What experience do you want to deliver to your customers?
It’s also important to ask yourself how much technology you can integrate into your day-to-day operations, and, if you have franchisees, how quickly or effectively you can roll out these changes to those other locations.
Again, the investments you make should address the wants and needs of your customer base and should reflect your unique identity, not just the trends in the industry.
Strive to stand out
Seeing as how the next-generation customer is hyper-connected, restaurant owners now have so many more opportunities to make an impression on that customer and, just as important, gather useful data.
According to the Deloitte report, the next-generation customer relationship spans five stages, also called the “5Es”:
Entice—the moment when someone decides to eat out but has yet to pick a restaurant;
Enter—the period between selecting a restaurant and ordering food;
Engage—the period during ordering and payment;
Exit—that time between paying the bill and receiving the food or picking it up; and,
Extend—the period after a customer has finished the meal and continues to engage through other connections, such as social media.
Armed with your knowledge of your customers and your knowledge of your brand, determine at which stage in the 5Es path is it most effective to reach out to customers.
One quick service restaurant partnered with a crowdsourced traffic and navigation app to “entice” customers to its locations over other fast-food chains. The restaurant used technology so that each of its locations could detect an app user who is within three kilometers and who has been idle for more than one minute, i.e., most likely stuck in traffic. Once detected, the restaurant then sends a message to that user through the app about its lunch or dinner treats, along with directions to the nearest location. In just 10 days, the brand was able to send a message to 400,000 drivers, and of these drivers, more than 11,000 actually made their way to the nearest restaurant location.
Targeting customers at the Entice stage worked for this brand because it rolled out the strategy in a country where people love eating out for lunch and dinner, and where traffic gets particularly bad during these dining periods.
Act for today, look to tomorrow
Recently, the CEO of a global software company that is already at the forefront of digital transformation said that we are still in the early stages of the development arc of this technology. So what you’re seeing now could drastically change in a short span of time.
How then do you prepare for the unknown?
A restaurant brand can be confident in its ability to put new tools to use if it has a fundamental customer experience strategy. This, again, goes back to knowing your customers and knowing what kind of experience you want to offer them.
On top of that, keep an eye on the market for forward-looking technologies and how they can improve customer attraction and loyalty. The retail sector, in particular, is one that restaurants may want to study: Over the past decade, many retailers have experimented with technology and innovation that will allow them to bring unique, omni-channel experiences to their customers. Look at what worked for them and what didn’t, while remaining mindful of the fact that unlike these brands, you as a restaurant are expected to provide high-quality food.
As more and more restaurants come up with gimmicks and adopt technology to attract next-generation consumers, it might be tempting to jump right in and invest in these new tools. In doing so, you run the risk of employing a scattershot approach to what could be a potentially expensive endeavor. Instead, gather customer insights, learn from what others have done before you, and connect that knowledge with targeted innovation. This way, you stand a better chance of being a winning restaurant of the future.
The author is a partner at Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd., a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited—comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.