The restaurant industry is experiencing dramatic change as Americans spend less time in the kitchen and put more of their food budgets toward dining out.
Restaurateurs stand to gain from the increased demand, but they’re also feeling the heat—and it’s not just from the kitchen. Diners today are discerning, whether they’re dashing into a quick-service restaurant between meetings or choosing a full-service restaurant for a family dinner. Today’s restaurant operators must find a way to deliver a memorable and efficient experience that keeps customers filing through their door and away from the competition.
Here are four ways restaurants can overcome challenges and attract modern diners.
Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a free appetizer or saving a few dollars on a meal? Recent research from Bank of America Merchant Services revealed most consumers are eager to take advantage of reward programs: more than 60 percent will participate in loyalty programs offered by businesses they frequent.
The research also found that a variety of loyalty offerings could be powerful in attracting return business. In fact, 42 percent of customers cite reward points that can be redeemed with that business as the most compelling incentive, closely followed by instant discounts.
To maximize the impact of a loyalty program, restaurant owners should consider integrating special offers into an app so customers can easily track and redeem their points. The easier it is for the consumer, the more likely it is to drive business. Furthermore, restaurant owners can then analyze purchase data, gaining valuable insight into the program’s popularity and profitability as well as customer preferences and trends.
Diners want to choose when, where and how they order their food, with 82 percent citing convenience as a top concern when dining out according to Mintel.
Technologies like mobile or online ordering and tablets at the table could help satisfy those concerns. Research found more than half of consumers would likely increase their in-store visits if online ordering were available. Clearly, owners and managers should evaluate these options and opt for capabilities that best suit the restaurant’s vision.
Furthermore, today’s diners also expect restaurants to be nimble about payments: they want servers to be able to split checks without fuss, and then hand over their preferred payment method (which could range from cash, debit or credit cards, or digital wallets). If customers are ordering online or through a smart phone, they expect to be able to pay within that same device. And no matter how they’re paying, those payments should be secured by end-to-end encryption and authentication. Restaurants who limit the payment methods they accept are effectively limiting their success as well.
To succeed in today’s hyper-competitive restaurant industry, restaurants must process a high volume of orders quickly and simultaneously—especially if it accepts mobile or online orders.
Restaurants staying ahead of the curve are using management systems that assign courses and dispatch tickets to multiple printers for quick processing. Servers can use tablets to pull up detailed information on wines without consulting a sommelier, or answer allergy questions without rushing back to the kitchen—saving time for both the diner and server.
When it’s time to pay the bill, offering diners the ability to pay at the table and select a suggested tip amount—or skip signatures entirely on low-price tickets – can help expedite transactions and win over customers who are short on time but still seek a satisfying dining experience.
For many restaurateurs, technology is the key to delivering what customers want while also helping to streamline business operations. Owners are finding that these systems simplify the work in managing sales and recording data across multiple devices and locations. Even for single-location restaurants, cloud-based technology can revolutionize the way they do business.
Cloud-based restaurant point-of-sale (POS) systems, for example, can consolidate activity from online, mobile and in-person orders into a single view. Owners can then assess the days and times sales are the highest and whether one of the ordering methods is under-performing. A restaurant POS system that records data and insights can also quickly reveal top-selling items, which helps determine where a menu excels, where it could be improved and how to reduce waste.
With this type of data on hand, a restaurant’s weaknesses become easier to spot and hard decisions become easier to make. Restaurateurs save time on tedious management tasks and complicated data consolidating, and ultimately can give more attention to creating new menu items, marketing campaigns and offerings that will delight their customers.
In the face of high demand, running a restaurant and keeping customers happy is increasingly complex. Using these tips to their advantage, restaurant operators can make dining out simpler, faster and more satisfying to savvy diners, who are more frequently turning mealtimes over to the professionals.
Wil Cothran serves as Senior Vice President of Integrated Payments and Payment Facilitator Business Development for Bank of America Merchant Services. In this role, he oversees a variety of partnership programs, including referral relationships and independent software providers. Prior to his current role, he was the Senior Vice President for the company’s Business Banking division. He joined Bank of America Merchant Services in 2001 from Bank of America. Cothran earned his Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology from Texas A&M University and his MBA from the University of Texas in Arlington. He resides in Dallas, Texas.