Customer Expectations Post COVID The Ground Has Shifted
With many cities opening up restaurants post the COVID capacity restrictions, how should restaurants now prepare for increasing numbers of dine-in guests and even more importantly which of the necessary changes made in the industry are either here to stay or at least will cloud what we do moving forward?
During the darker days of heavy restrictions, restaurants that wanted to prosper had to shift their strategy to a frictionless, digital offering for pickup and delivery. Dine-in was severely limited with strict health and safety guidelines having to be enforced and the pivot meant that customers who had been blissfully unaware of such things as online ordering or what a QR code was, have emerged post pandemic expecting such things as a standard and indeed a permanent offering even after returning to “normal” dining.
The ground has shifted, and it is becoming more digital.
It’s certainly not a behavioral change that’s unique to the restaurant industry as the pandemic has definitely shifted societal norms, from an acceptance of virtual schooling to meeting your doctor virtually instead of at their practice, and (our personal favorite) working your entire day ,from home, in your PJ’s. There is little doubt that such behavior has also affected our dining expectations permanently as well.
At one level it means that even with our physical locations opening back up, a hybrid approach to dining is now expected by a customer base who have gotten used to the benefits of ordering online with efficient curbside pickup/delivery and expect “that” as an ongoing alternative when they want to avoid going into a restaurant.
Meanwhile, for those who want to dine-in, changes have certainly also taken hold. An expectation of servers in masks but diners not wearing them, is an obvious if somewhat incongruous sign that change is in the air and this permeates through an entire customer led focus on cleanliness, health and safety and general efficiency in food prep and order taking that was hitherto the remit of a small fussy few. Basically we have spoiled those pesky customers and now they want us to continue doing it.
Disposable menus, QR codes for a digital menu variant, and touchless payments are all areas that require some use of technology to continue with this spoiling while assurances around the afore mentioned safety feature, for many would be customers, needs to reverberate through your website and social media postings and almost every digital communication.
So here are a few tips for your restaurant to keep satisfying customers who prefer such low-touch services including for those customers that want the whole dining experience but within this new world order.
Your restaurant should be an inviting experience for individuals who want to dine-in, but should continue to be designed to offer digital options for ordering and payment to avoid too many touch points.
At the most basic level a website that communicates effectively, assures would-be customers of your focus on a safe dining experience and one that also offers easy access to online ordering is a must-have.
Thinking about that side of the business first, online pickup needs to continue to deliver a frictionless, fast and contactless option for curbside, while delivery also needs to avoid unnecessary contact. Physically, your curbside/pickup orders should be in an easily-recognizable location, well-marked, and not require the customer to enter the building. That means collecting payment ahead of time (which is usually a good business decision anyway) and you should make sure that tips can be handled digitally for both pickup and delivery and therefore does not get in the way of this contactless flow.
The dine-in experience likewise needs some tweaks to be made, or at least continued, post covid. Table reservations are a great way to give customers a comfortable feeling, with outside dining options and overall seat booking made easy. Customers have never enjoyed “the get here and wait” system and covid has added to their concerns with a low tolerance even now for overcrowded waiting areas. Again, digital can help in any waiting system by the introduction of buzzers or better still an automatic message to a customer’s phone when their table is ready.
Once seated QR codes provide an easy option that avoids the need for reusable menus, while disposable menus are also an easy way to keep everybody happy. Payment options should ideally be a tap system on a payment unit brought to the table thereby checking two boxes in one, covering both our contactless theme as well as cyber security concerns which are increasingly prevalent – does anyone really want to see a server disappear out back with their credit card these days?
And finally, on or digital road to customer service and connectivity, let’s not forget to try and gather customer data for future communication, seek feedback via QR links, collect emails from the table booking system or via the online order data supplied and continue to grow that digital audience so we can easily communicate how well we are doing at the other things we do, like, you know, creating a great dining experience for our customers!
Overall, the message is clear “Continue with Health and Safety Precautions” even as covid itself begins to retreat as a business (and societal) threat and continue to tell your customers how good you are at it…
Just because restrictions have lifted does not mean that customers’ expectations have returned to how food was handled and served prior to COVID. According to a recent Zagat’s Future of Dining Study, “restaurant safety” is still the number one deterrent, listed for 3 out of 4 dining customers who chose to stay away.
For more information on creating a thriving restaurant, or help with your current restaurant’s digital offerings, click here Click here for more information. Spillover specializes in creating a professional and effective digital experience with a single fully integrated digital command center. It’s easy to use, has many automated features that will save restaurant operators time and provides the key tools to drive more revenue through our twin goals of “Effective Promotion” and “Digital Audience Growth”.