It's time for operators to play a balancing act.

Americans are dining out like it’s 2019, eager to experience the allure of restaurants again. However, the combination of increased in-person demand and continued record interest in delivery could result in challenges for restaurants unprepared to balance the two revenue streams.

While restaurant reservations bounced back to 89 percent of pre-pandemic levels in March through May 2021, consumer interest in food delivery was also incredibly high during the same period, at 189 percent of 2019 levels. Increased demand is a great problem to have, but both front- and back-of-house staff are now getting overwhelmed trying to juggle the resurgence of in-person dining, while keeping up with the off-premises offerings their customers expect. This is especially true now as there is a continued struggle to find restaurant workers, stretching limited resources even thinner. By leveraging advanced tech solutions, restaurants can thrive by maintaining off-premises momentum while creating enhanced in-person dining experiences during this crucial recovery period.

Using guest data as a strategic guide

A deeper understanding of guests helps operators determine the best strategies to allocate limited resources across on- and off-premises. By collecting data into one connected guest engagement platform across every on- and off-premises diner interaction, operators can access and identify macro trends on their guests. This includes what types of guests are coming in, when they prefer to dine, what they enjoy eating and whether they prefer on- vs. off-premises dining. Connecting data across the guest journey, including preferential and transactional data, can also help operators assess individual diners’ behaviors and spending across in-person and delivery/pickup to make better marketing and operational decisions.

For example, guest data can help operators understand the specific days of the week on which customers order the most takeout versus the days that are most popular for in-person dining. This empowers them to adjust menus and supply orders more confidently. Macro guest ordering trends could also reveal if a specific dish is more popular on-premises than off, and allow operators to promote that specific dish as a reason to come into the restaurant.

Getting creative with tailored promotions

With a data-based understanding of guests’ behavior, restaurants can craft tailored promotions, both to keep off-premises demand alive and entice serial takeout diners to visit in-person. Rather than send the same mass email out to every diner, restaurants can utilize targeted, cross-channel marketing automation leveraging both on- and off-premises data. This helps them to automatically foster stronger guest relationships through targeted email communications that are based on data collected during a customer’s ordering and visit history.

To make the most of off-premises demand, operators can use tailored promotions to offer exclusive delivery-only dishes or takeout specials during off-times. Emails can be set to send the day of the week on which takeout demand is the highest to catch these customers when they are most likely to have the restaurant top of mind.

To better manage on-premises dining, operators can use targeted promotions as simple as offering a discount for a guest to have their first meal back in-person, or can offer more complex perks such as an exclusive seasonal bottle of wine based on a guest’s order history if they dine within a specific date range.

Creating a seamless and unforgettable dine-in experience

Restaurants can infuse tech at every step of the guest journey to help a smaller waitstaff create amazing experiences that will make diners eager to return. Before guests arrive, restaurants can use automated emails to communicate specials, safety measures, and general information, putting customers at ease before they even walk in the door. Operators can then leverage reservation and waitlist tech to communicate with diners about wait times and understand when the dining room is full to better allocate server assignments.

Once guests are seated, operators can free up servers by using technology to reduce interactions with each table. Both QR code ordering and contactless payment solutions eliminate the need for servers to collect menus or interact with guests while they pay. And diners want this tech too, with over 1 in 6 (17 percent) Americans saying they would be more likely to visit a restaurant that offered QR code ordering. Operators can also use guest data to anticipate dietary restrictions and even auto-tag customers that are no-shows to identify the most promising reservations.

Making the most of all dining scenarios

With data-driven tech solutions, operators can maintain the loyalty they’ve cultivated with off-premises customers while enhancing the experience for on-premises guests. As the country fully reopens, restaurants that are able to balance and optimize both revenue streams will see incredible success.

The key will be leveraging on- and off-premises guest data in one profile to understand how diners interact with the restaurant, employing marketing automation, tailored promotions, and contactless order and pay tools to offer the best experiences in each scenario. With guest data in hand, restaurant operators won’t have to choose between on- and off-premises revenue streams, and can head into the next phase of reopening confident they can provide the best experience for all their diners.

Joel Montaniel is the CEO & Co-Founder of SevenRooms, a guest engagement and retention platform for hospitality operators, where he leads business strategy. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as the Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational, and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. (Hons) from Georgetown University.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology