Curbside “To Go”

Take the lead or get left in the dust

The “to go” option is gaining momentum. Curbside pickup dining is an increasingly popular way to drive business growth. According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 53 percent of frequent full-service restaurant customers are now likely to use curbside pickup. On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the country's biggest “takeout” days, 75 percent of the 1.25 billion chicken wings expected to be eaten this year will come from foodservice outlets. Curbside is a great way for full-service restaurants to increase sales without raising prices or adding seating capacity.

What Will Curbside Look Like in the Future?

At present, only minimal modifications have been made to restaurants venturing into curbside service. They allow for some extra parking spaces, an extra service person, a dash of technology (typically video and paging systems), and a modicum of signage. These are the few basics. But from the customer perspective, one curbside experience is much like another—a “sea of sameness.” That is sure to change as restaurants scramble to get a larger and larger slice of this growing trend. The innovative brands will look for ways to distinguish their curbside from the competition—faster service, better food, and a more enjoyable and unique curbside experience.

Creative Solutions Are Needed

The leading restaurants in tomorrow's curbside space will be thinking outside of the box. They will find ways to take the existing curbside takeout concept from a generic experience (with an employee coming outside to hand-deliver the order) to a proprietary and memorable branded customer experience. There are scores of opportunities for coming up with innovative solutions that can improve the customer experience, enhance sales, and create a competitive edge for your brand. Innovation is the key. Here are just a few examples to consider.

Find Ways to Increase the Ticket

The average cost of a “to go” meal is three or more dollars less than a meal eaten on-premise (tip excluded). Frequently omitted items on a curbside order include appetizers, beverages, and desserts. The leading curbside brands will discover improved ways to promote beverages. They will find menu items and packaging solutions to more easily transport appetizers, fried foods, and desserts. They will develop customer communications at the pick-up zone that will help narrow this gap.

Food Packaging Improvement

Food delivery and takeout packaging designs and technologies need to be addressed. Too many foods do not travel well (soggy fried food, melted ice cream, and so on). New packaging—and perhaps technology—should be developed to address the needs of the curbside customer. Finding solutions will result in better product delivery, and a wider choice on the curbside menu.

Dare to Look Different

At present, most curbside zones look like an afterthought. It won’t be long before some innovative brand designs a full-service restaurant that specifically addresses the unique needs of curbside. Curbside will become a destination, not just a few reserved parking places with a little canopy. Be daring! Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Design a curbside experience that looks like no other

  • Create a prominent welcome zone that makes your curbside experience unique

  • Observe how customers use this zone and make improvements that create a dazzling customer experience

  • Develop a private entrance just for your curbside customers

  • Consider a specially built area where your curbside customers can “drive inside” during inclement weather (the curbside corral)

  • Use lighting to transform and highlight your curbside by night

  • Develop branded architectural solutions that transform curbside from an add-on afterthought to an integrated part of your exterior trade dress

Innovate Your Signage

Start thinking outside of the box. Engage a blend of copy writing, graphic design, architecture, and technology to create your curbside experience. Develop ways to communicate your curbside service to the street, stimulating trial and setting you apart from other brands.

Radio Communications

In the quick-service segment, some restaurants are using low-power local radio transmissions for the drive-thru. Likewise, your curbside customers could tune to a posted radio frequency as they enter the pad. They might hear brand jingles, daily specials, and add-on recommendations. Local radio transmissions can lift the average drive-thru check by 5 percent—why not do the same at curbside and help close the current gap between the typical curbside ticket and inside dining ticket?

Embrace New Technologies

Take credit/debit acceptance to the next level. Consider automated non-contact Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems such as Mobil’s Speedpass. This represents the ultimate in customer transaction convenience, speed of service, customer loyalty, and database marketing technology. Explore the latest products to minimize customer wait time—television, paging systems, and mobile apps are currently available to track arriving customers and expedite orders). What else can be done to elevate your curbside experience to a “best-in-class” practice?

Personalize the Process

Link the transaction display into an online relational database and customer ID system. Personalize the display content to the individual customer. This will be much like the “personalized touch” that Hertz Gold Members experience when they pick up their rental car.

Reduce Perceived Wait Time

Improve customer satisfaction by providing entertaining merchandising. Give waiting customers something to read, do, and enjoy. The investment, timing, and complexity for such solutions need not be intense. The return on investment is good, quick, and sustainable (providing the content is well-managed, well-presented, and refreshed often).

Where to Start?

Success at curbside starts with a thoughtful audit and assessment of what you have now. Gain an understanding of the current curbside experience. Determine what is needed, and where. Observe the entire process from the customer’s point of view. Study what customers do as the go through the process. How do they behave? What do they look at? What issues or problems do they have? Talk to customers to determine what you should do differently than you are doing now. Well-crafted customer research gets at the heart of the curbside experience.

Learn from Others

Whether you currently have curbside or not, benchmark the best practices (both in and outside of your industry). See what others are doing and learn from the best. Within the restaurant community, there’s not much innovation going on at curbside, so be sure to look at other industries (non-restaurant) for the greatest inspiration. That’s where you're likely to find the most valuable “lessons-learned.”

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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