The restaurant industry has been met with the most uncertain last couple of years. As a result, many restaurants shut their doors for good. Meanwhile, other restaurants have found ways to thrive in the changes, working with a new digital playbook that can survive the unpredictable. Omicron brought widespread infections and exacerbated staffing shortages and according to a recent Independent Restaurant Coalition survey, nearly 60 percent of businesses decreased sales by more than half in December. Yet, this is just the most recent event to pile onto a series of ups and downs for the industry. With all this uncertainty, restaurants must embrace a new digital playbook in order to not just stay afloat, but to thrive.
Here are the principles some of the biggest brands are leveraging to continue serving customers in a post-COVID world, and how those principles are being shaped/adapted in the face of omicron-specific challenges.
With the prevalence of omicron cases across the US, the discussion has begun to shift from COVID-19 becoming endemic rather than a pandemic. To keep their staff and customers safe, many businesses have moved their operations to reduced-contact models—like online ordering and curbside pickup. If your brand has not already created an order ahead program, now is the time. Start small with a basic order ahead app to learn what works best for your restaurant.
For brands that have launched an app and onboarded users, you must work to keep them coming back. In order to improve the user experience and grow brand loyalty, focus on location-based technology, 1:1 experiences to keep the customer informed throughout the process, and establish a loyalty program to promote customer habits.
Location-based technology has the additional benefit of creating better estimates for production time, allowing kitchens to organize and deliver food for curbside or pickup with less scrambling. Digital insights like this will help reduce staff stress as omicron continues to exacerbate the labor shortages within the industry.
Now it’s time to take it to the next level by getting more sophisticated with monetization techniques, increasing engagement and growing your user base. At the heart of these efforts? Personalization. To continue increasing the value of your app, extend your loyalty program across channels, leverage location-based advertising, get answers from your customers, and test, analyze, optimize, and repeat.
Matthew Carinio is Vice President, Strategy and Consulting at Bounteous+Hathway, a digital innovation partner for restaurant chains including Domino's, Panda Express, and Wingstop.