In Restaurants of the Future, Customers Will Increasingly Call the Shots

By Skip Cass, CEO at LRS

Technology is changing the meaning of excellent customer service and putting the power into customers’ hands. Look no further than today’s leading restaurants, where customers choose how they wait, where they sit, how they order, and how they pay.

At every point of the dining experience, customers are increasingly calling the shots. For restaurants, succeeding in the future depends increasingly on embracing technology that serves up more customer options.

Restaurants are finding new ways to meet customers at every point of contact in order to offer more options that enhance the guest experience. Before customers even walk through the door, restaurants are giving consumers ways to peruse online menus. Others simplify the reservation process with apps, or they offer pre-ordering as an incentive to skip lines. 

The newest restaurant technology is all about getting in-tune with diners at every point of the dining experience, and then fine-tuning operations through the gathering and analysis of customer feedback. The restaurant of the future is geared toward listening closely and delivering to customers what they actually say they want, not just an educated guess of what they might want. 

Customers Want to Choose How They Wait

Technology options start with improving the restaurant wait — a restaurant’s first chance to make a positive impression. The age-old, clipboard-and-pen method of managing a waitlist leaves guests huddled around the host stand, unsure of where they are in the queue and hoping to hear their names shouted out. It also results in a loud, chaotic environment that interferes with the quality of the guest experience.

Full-service restaurants that recognize the seating process as an important part of the guest experience have adopted waitlist management apps to better manage the host stand. Waitlist apps streamline the process, allowing a host to simply enter a customer’s name, mobile phone number and party size. Customers are alerted by text, freeing them to wait in the bar or patio until their table is ready. 

However, recognizing that not everyone prefers the same type of notification — and that some patrons are reluctant to give out their phone numbers — restaurants are looking at waitlist management tools that integrate texting with a system of coaster pagers. 

Use Simple Data to Give Customers What They Want

In the fast casual realm, the problems of seating and speedy service delivery are a little different, with speed taking on as much importance as friendly service. In a recent  Technomic Consumer Brand Metrics report, 90 percent of Fast Casual customers said speed of service is an important factor in their restaurant selection.

Technology can help here, too. Table location systems such as the LRS Table Tracker perform dual functions: speeding up food delivery while giving managers intelligence that help them tweak customer service and offer more options.

With the Table Tracker, customers are given a coaster-type device when they order. The device reads a tag on the customer’s selected table and broadcasts the location. That way, servers don’t have to wander around looking for table tents. The system also helps kitchen and service staff ensure each order is delivered within a specified time. Orders are delivered faster and fresher.

Such systems also perform an important intelligence-gathering function. Delivery times can easily be compiled and tracked, painting a story managers wouldn’t otherwise be able to see when they’re elbows-deep in operations. They can now see how well operations are running on a day-to-day basis, track delivery times and even compare efficiency among locations. 

Equipped with solid data, managers can make better management decisions that would improve the efficiency and speed customers are looking for.  

In a real sense, such an approach puts even restaurant staffing in the customer’s hands. Instead of operating a restaurant on intuition and educated guesswork, managers operate from a basis of facts.

Stop Waiting for Scathing Online Reviews

Technology can also help enhance the end of the guest experience — and the process of ensuring that people come back again and again. 

Historically, restaurants have attempted to gather feedback by asking customers to fill out comment cards or, more recently, log into a website to take a survey. But who really wants to do that? Poor response rates to both methods (usually in the single digits) are evidence of their ineffectiveness.

One less-than-satisfying alternative is to log into Yelp or another online source to see what customers think. More than 60 percent of Millennials say they rate services and products online. But by the time a restaurant operator or manager reads a review on Yelp, it’s far too late to address a bad situation.

A better path is to give customers an immediate opportunity to voice their opinions and know their feedback will be seen and considered. More restaurants today are finding that tablet surveys are a good solution to the old problem of gathering customer feedback. 

Customizable tablets that can be presented at the end of the meal or with the customer’s check have been shown to produce response rates up to 80 percent. More responses mean a better sample of customer opinion. Immediate responses mean an opportunity to correct a bad situation on the spot. With any negative feedback, a manager can be paged to address problems then and there, before an angry customer has time to Yelp.

As with the Table Tracker, tablet surveys also give businesses the advantage of aggregated data. Operators and managers can analyze data for clues that will help them respond to customer needs faster, whether it’s adjusting menu offerings or spotting issues with a particular server. 

Once again, the customer is calling the shots. No complaint goes unheard; no opportunity to improve the guest experience is missed.

It’s All About Options

Today, the guest experience goes far beyond just selling a great product. It starts before the customer sets foot in an establishment and lasts until he or she leaves an online review. 

To deliver the very best experience requires restaurants to be completely in-sync with customers, with the ultimate goal of delivering every option that today’s customer expects and demands. 

By embracing the newest technology, restaurants can serve up every available option while providing the very best guest experience at every point of contact.