Standing at the counter and waiting to give your order? You’re out of touch. Calling the restaurant ahead of time? You may as well be using rotary phones. The National Restaurant Association says that three in five consumers in the US order delivery or takeout at least once a week, and the third-party app space is getting more creative in an ongoing attempt to attract more diners to their platforms.
The digital transformation of the restaurant industry has already begun to create a whole new dining experience, with artificial intelligence, big data and mobile apps giving customers greater convenience, and restaurants more information about what those customers really want.
The restaurant experience may begin with the quality of the food, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Today, the restaurant experience begins when the patron is sitting in his or her living room and looking at the ordering app on their mobile phones, which increasingly represents the restaurant’s first point of contact.
Giving customers the convenience of placing an order through a mobile app is no longer even considered a value-add – it’s what restaurants need just to have a seat at the table. Consequently, restaurateurs and the developers who create apps for them have already begun to roll out the next generation of ordering apps, ushering in an exciting new world of differentiation.
Third-party apps are getting more creative as the tech side of the business gets more competitive. Attracting consumers to an ordering platform requires operators to think beyond offering simple order-taking mechanisms.
What the next generation of restaurant apps look like
In a recent Deloitte study, a survey of restaurant consumers, restaurant executives and brand leaders indicated that not only do restaurants need to understand the next-generation technology, they also need to understand the next-generation customer, adapt to their patterns of interaction, and build a meaningful digital experience.
According to the Deloitte study, “Next-generation customers are value-driven, hyper-connected, health conscious, tech-savvy, social, collaborative—and time-starved.” And the results of understanding this type of next-generation customer are measurable – when locations provide technology for order-placing, customers will come back six percent more often, and will spend 20 percent more each time. The study also reveals that 70 percent of restaurant patrons look for apps that deliver a personalized experience and convey a sense that the restaurant “knows them.”
Personalization, powered by artificial intelligence, is the driving force behind this transformation across the entire industry, from fast food to casual dining and beyond. Restaurants are emphasizing data collection as a means of personalizing the dining experience. For example, McDonalds’ recent $300 million acquisition of AI company Dynamic Yield was done to allow the fast food chain to create a more personalized experience for customers, by using the technology to recommend food choices based on a variety of factors, including the weather, time of day, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items.
That next generation is already here, and those next-gen apps are evolving to meet the needs of next-gen customers who have become accustomed to mobile apps, automation, intelligent assistants – and most importantly, have become accepting of data collection as part of the promise. Those next-gen customers are now used to online apps which make recommendations, know their identity and preferences when they log on, and know their location in real time. Now, those customers want that level of convenience when they patronize restaurants.
The restaurants which come out ahead will be the ones taking full advantage of that digital technology, seizing opportunities and engaging customers in a more personalized way. Doing so not only serves the customer better – it results in increased frequency of visits and larger check size.
San Francisco-based startup Tyme Commerce understands the convergence of next-generation ordering technology with the next-generation customer.
“The way people interact with mobile apps is rapidly changing and becoming more intelligent,” said Bobby Marhamat, CEO of Tyme Commerce. “Today’s mobile apps, whether they are for ordering takeout food or buying groceries online, are data-driven, they understand the customer on a personal level, and most importantly, they anticipate your needs.” Tyme Commerce has transformed online ordering into a new type of “digital concierge,” which goes beyond presenting menu selections and relaying orders. The digital concierge, named Emily, knows your preferences and favorites. Emily knows that, for example, you like pepperoni on your pizza, you like Chicago-style over thin crust, and that you usually order a two-liter bottle of Pepsi to go with it. Emily knows when you order from your favorite takeout burger place that you don’t like onions, and so even if you forget to specify “no onions,” Emily remembers for you.
Tyme’s initial launch in San Francisco has been well received by consumers and restaurants alike. Entrepreneur Hawk Tea’s Braised + Bread, a small Cambodian restaurant in the city’s financial district, recently signed on as the latest in a rapidly growing collection of the city’s favorite restaurants to be listed on the app. Catering to a high-powered lunch crowd, Tyme’s ability to handle large group orders works well with Tea’s lunchtime office crowd who flock to his restaurant to enjoy his Cambodian cuisine. “Their order-ahead system and corporate order system is very enticing, and that stood out to me,” said Tea. “It’s nice to get an email notification the day before an order is placed, rather than getting a big order we can’t plan for. That order the day before lets us plan for things we need to prepare, so that’s a big plus.”