A growing number of restaurant patrons have turned to online ordering as their most frequent and preferred dining experience. This trend was gaining traction before 2020, but the pandemic accelerated its adoption, as customers appreciated the convenience as well as the safety of reduced interpersonal contact. Business research and advisory firm Frost & Sullivan predict that the online food delivery market will reach $200 billion by 2025 (up from their estimate of $82 billion in 2018).
Restaurants responded to this surge (and kept the lights on during pandemic lockdowns) by meeting consumer demands for online ordering options, whether through utilizing third-party platforms such as GrubHub and Uber Eats or through accepting online orders directly via a website or mobile app.
Optimizing the online experience requires planning and implementing strategies such as reassigning staff, possibly reallocating dining-room space to accommodate pickups, and accepting flexible payment solutions. However, it would be a mistake to lose focus on in-house experiences, as on-premises dining is beginning to return. And some of these same strategies, including flexible payment solutions, can be key to drawing customers back in.
The Return to In-Person Dining
Despite the increased enthusiasm for off-premises dining, plenty of customers are still eager to return to the dining room. Business intelligence firm Morning Consult has been tracking how safe consumers feel about resuming pre-pandemic activities, and as of April 2022, some 74% of Americans say they are comfortable with eating at a restaurant, with both outdoor and indoor dining comfort levels hitting new highs. Improving the in-house experience as well as takeout and delivery options is vital to your restaurant’s continued recovery and success.
In-House Dining Experience Hurdles to Overcome
Despite diners’ renewed desire to return to their favorite establishments, there are still a few potential obstacles to consider in providing an optimal experience. One such hurdle you may encounter will be new customer expectations. Patrons might be looking for the same experiences they remember from before early 2020; but now restaurants are implementing new (and likely lasting) policies in the wake of the pandemic to make dining more distanced, contactless, and safer, ranging from increased outdoor dining to the elimination of physical menus. Restaurants will have to strike a balance between customer expectations and needs for this “new normal.”
Another hurdle you may have to better is the ongoing labor shortage. Today many restaurant owners and staff have more to do with fewer available workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hospitality and foodservice industry had a May 2021 quit rate of 5.7% (a 54.1% increase since May 2020). The National Restaurant Association reported in November 2021 that 77% of restaurant operators across the US did not have enough employees to support their current consumer demand.
To counter these obstacles, restaurants need to:
- Do more with fewer employees
- Save steps and streamline processes
- Focus on providing the best customer experiences
The key to achieving these goals lies in taking advantage of available technology, including flexible payment solutions, to optimize in-house dining.
Flexible Payment Solutions Are Integral to Success
One of the aspects of online ordering that diners appreciate most — payment ease and flexibility — can also be applied to in-house operations to improve the customer experience. Pay-at-the-table technology provides a variety of benefits for patrons, staff, and owners:
- It saves time: Servers don’t have to run back and forth delivering the bill, taking the payment to a POS terminal for processing, then returning with the receipt. Instead, it can all done right at the table, giving staff more time to provide attentive and personalized service and allowing for quicker table turnover (which increases throughput and customer satisfaction).
- Checks can be split easily: This feature improves the convenience and speed of payment processing, again saving time for servers and patrons.
- Adding tips is also simple: Customers who are satisfied with their dining experience are also likely to tip more generously. With integrated prompts before payment completion, dinners are more likely to leave an accurate tip.
- Customer data security is improved: Credit or debit cards never leave the diner’s possession, eliminating any potential anxiety over the possibility of identity theft or card skimming.
- Payment can also be touch-free: Customers can use their smartphones to scan a QR code printed on the bill and then choose to pay from their device with a card or a mobile wallet (such as Apple Pay or Google Pay). The convenience of multiple options and the peace of mind from not having to handle publicly-used items such as bill folders, pens, or touch screens further enhance the dining experience.
These flexible payment solutions contribute greatly to customer satisfaction, increasing the likelihood of repeat dine-in business.
New Technology for the New Normal
With an omnichannel approach to restaurant management becoming more prevalent, owners need help to streamline their processes and meet customer expectations. Both online ordering and in-house dining must be optimized to offer great experiences and encourage customer loyalty. Restaurant technology can provide the features businesses need on every channel, including flexible payment solutions. For in-house experiences, these solutions save servers steps, deliver payment options that are easy and secure, and ensure that service is prompt, efficient, and profitable. To learn more about choosing the right solutions — and the right tech partner for your business needs — contact NCC today.