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For two years, restaurants have faced a relentlessly challenging environment of uncertainty, major operational changes, and supply chain disruptions—not to mention The labor shortage is causing 71% of restaurants to spend $5,000 or more per month.
So how do restaurants survive and even thrive? The pandemic has highlighted two important factors affecting business performance: 1) the extraordinary resilience of restaurateurs and employees and 2) their level of technology use.
Whether it’s moving to online ordering or redesigning the restaurant experience, restaurants that already have more tech support or are quicker to adopt new technology tend to bounce back faster and take the extra curveball as the Covid variant emerges in the Greek alphabet.
Seemingly temporary solutions have become central to operations, and an increasing reliance on technology will continue as restaurants look to increase guest numbers, efficiency, sales and profitability. A Popmenu study A survey of 415 U.S. restaurateurs and operators found that 51% plan to automate more online operations in 2022, and 41% plan to automate more local operations.
As restaurants take steps to recover and lay the groundwork for post-pandemic growth, they must continually assess how well they are performing in three key areas that could impact whether they are able to perform better across the widening digital divide.
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Digital Crossover #1 – Online Menu
Without a doubt, online menus are a restaurant’s most important and underutilized sales asset. A plain text or PDF experience won’t do the menu justice and may cost the restaurant some business: 30% of U.S. consumers say If they visit a restaurant’s website on a mobile device (which most consumers do) and see a PDF menu, they move to another restaurant.
Offers an interactive menu with enticing photos, descriptions and reviews of dishes. Imagine visiting Amazon to buy a pair of shoes without photos or written details. Chances are, these shoes won’t make it into the cart. The same goes for ordering. According to Popmenu’s study of more than 2 million online orders, dishes with photos received twice as many orders and four times as many reviews.
Search engine optimization (SEO) with menus. Each dish should be set as a unique index page for search engines. When restaurants update their menus, add new dishes, or post reviews, they automatically signal search engines that new information is available to read. This helps restaurants show up higher in search results and increases website traffic, while the interactive experience helps improve customer conversions.
Integrate with Google Business Profile.Google owns the vast majority of search engine marketing share, and Nearly half of Google searches are local searchessuch as “restaurants near me”.
By implementing SEO-driven online menus and websites, Hampton Societya multi-location restaurant group based in coastal Illinois, Florida and Tennessee, saw a 63% increase in average monthly website visits (to over 285,000) in three months, and the value of its organic keywords doubled more than $520,000. An upscale steakhouse in Texas, B&B Butcher’s Restauranthas surpassed $450,000 in online orders since expanding digital capabilities during the pandemic.
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Digital divider #2 – Marketing…or lack thereof
Many restaurants do not have dedicated marketers, and a lack of time and resources can hinder the ability to attract and re-engage guests. While marketing may seem complicated and costly, most of it just stays with guests who have “craving” assets. Many things can be automated — and at a manageable price.
Send automated text messages based on guest behavior. When guests place an order, like a dish, or leave a review, follow-up messages with special promotions are automatically sent to motivate future business. Make sure to invite your guests to become VIPs so they can get exclusive deals, invitations to events, and other perks.
Stay social. 45% of consumers Tried a restaurant because of the agency’s social media posts. Share information about new dishes, happy hours, trivia nights, wine tastings, guest experiences, and more, at least twice a week if not daily.
Choir, known as a Southern California artisan sausage maker, is very active on social media and other digital marketing channels. They bring employees and customers into their stories and leverage user-generated photos and content along with professional visuals. From 2020 to 2021, The Chori-Man attracted twice as many monthly visitors as the previous year, and their Instagram followers increased by 40%, now over 20,000.
Related: Food for thought: Restaurants go digital to survive and thrive
Digital divider #3 – local implementation
Once considered a barrier to building customer relationships, technology is now seen as an enabler as restaurants grapple with safety requirements and talent shortages. From QR-based contactless dining to AI-enabled phone answering, restaurants continue to attract guests even when they can’t be in front of them.
- Available 24/7. Two in five consumers (42%) said, if they call to reserve a restaurant and get a voicemail, they immediately go to another restaurant. Restaurants can now use AI technology to answer frequently asked questions as well as questions tailored to their business. AI technology can also send callers a link to a restaurant menu, send a link to make a reservation, and record a voicemail via text so owners can immediately see priority messages.
- Use waitlists as a marketing tool. Thanks to the new technology, guests automatically receive a link to the menu when they add themselves to the waitlist via a QR code or restaurant website. After a meal, guests are invited to submit reviews and follow the restaurant, so ongoing engagement is automated.
Laguna Beach deck in California uses automation to support its waterfront dining experience, ensuring customers’ inquiries are resolved even if they can’t answer the phone. In 30 days, AI-enabled technology answered 1,658 calls, covering everything from restaurant hours and locations to reservation and ordering information.
During the pandemic, consumers have grown accustomed to new ways of doing things 75% Expect restaurants to offer more online and live digital experiences in the future. Restaurants that rely on technology to drive greater connectivity and convenience are expected to fare better as the industry works toward a sustained recovery.