More conceptually, Outback’s aim is going to center on providing textual experiences, whether that’s on- or off-premises. “That younger customer is not necessarily the one that’s going to look at email,” she says. “There was something that I pulled for our organization six to eight months ago that was talking about how people like to receive their information. And it identified that the Baby Boomer generation as definitely willing to open an email, but that younger millennial, Gen Z, that’s just not how they interact with a brand. And so, I think all of these things are going to force us to go down a different path to stay relevant.”
Observed through a COVID filter, a lot of restaurants today face a technology crossroads. Do they continue to shift investment, prepare for an equilibrium, or pull back on IT spend, as Savneet Singh, president & CEO of PAR Technology Corp, recently asked?
In Singh’s opinion, the “cat’s out of the bag” with consumers, meaning the experience they received during the pandemic is one they’ll count on for good. They might not always seek it—say, if they’re looking to spend two hours reconnecting with family over a meal—but the more convenient options will always have a place. A guest might look for it on a different occasion, one they banked on over the past 18 months. Whether that’s takeout on a Thursday or delivery on a Friday night.
Singh compares it to the long-term shift seen from retail to online. Once commerce hit mainstream adoption (Amazon), it never stopped.
It’s a clear point—the digital footprint is as important as the physical one today for restaurants. Even with digital sales representing the minority of transactions, they require the same focus to remain relevant to guests. The past trade-off, where guests accepted friction to gain convenience in their digital ordering, was left in COVID’s wake.
Another way to look at is something brought up by Olo CEO Noah Glass in August. Delivery remained just 8 percent of the restaurant industry’s overall transactions in Q2, per The NPD Group.
Digital as a category mixed 17 percent. But “digital delivery” comprised just 6 percent. So where is the other 11 percent flowing from? You can call it “non-delivery digital.” Ten percent belongs to takeout and, for the first time in sector history, 1 percent stemmed from “digital on-premises”—options such as QR code and at-the-table kiosk service. It might not sound major, but it’s 1 percent of a 60 billion yearly transactions pie.
The present challenge at hand, Seanor says, is to meet guest expectations while also empowering a company’s marketing and operations layers. “We also want to make sure we’re articulating to an individual or internal folks why we think these things matter,” she says, “or how to look at some of these things differently. We’re all in this together.”
Put differently, COVID has shifted the digital culture of restaurants. “There’s a lot of foundational pieces we had to change to get where we are,” Seanor says. “But it was worth the change.”
Today, Bloomin’ has the flexibility to evolve and shift as it holds conversations about its long-term path for digital experience. Before, using the app as an example, it was really about just checking a box, as was the case for retailers sector-wide. Apps are in? We need to have one, with little to no concern about leveraging it down the line.