It’s safe to say that the pandemic changed life as we knew it. Many businesses were forced to close their doors until restrictions were lifted and operations could resume. Restaurants scrambled to come up with ways they could keep business running. Curbside pickup, outdoor dining and to-go orders became the new normal. While this kept some operations alive, restaurants had a whole new list of challenges they were facing. With restaurant crowds returning to pre-pandemic levels, crew members are found working more hours with less assistance, leading to poor customer service and major back of house inefficiencies.
The good news is, restaurants can offset and even solve these challenges, by adapting. In a recent report, it is estimated that within two to three years, about 50% of restaurants will be implementing automation technology to reduce the effects of labor shortages and customer service issues. Many QSRs and fast casual restaurants have already implemented digital automation technologies in the form of preview menu boards, digital menu boards and automated ordering systems. It has been found that the addition of these solutions have improved back of house operations, product sales, order accuracy and customer satisfaction.
Digital and Preview Menu Boards
Typically, customers choose fast food establishments because of the convenience. It was even reported that 78% of customers picked convenience as their number one drive thru draw in 2022. However, there can be a lot of issues with the process if establishments aren’t properly staffed or have the right tools available. Additionally, there is growing competition from other grab-and-go food pickup options, including grocery and convenience stores. Implementing digital solutions in the drive thru can help tremendously by easing the effects of limited staff and inefficient processes. Preview digital menu boards are a great addition to drive thru lanes because they prime the purchase — guests are greeted, then see special deals and promotions, popular menu items, and more, before they even reach the ordering system. This assists the customer at the point of purchase by providing additional information and personalized recommendations for upsell opportunities.
Once the customers approach the menu board, they are able to clearly view the full menu, which is broken down into visually appealing sections for quick and easy scanning. Because it is a digital menu board, the content can be optimized for factors such as weather, time of day, item and labor availability. An additional bonus is being able to check your ordered items on a digital confirmation menu board to avoid any inaccuracies.
These solutions also provide a visually appealing source of entertainment. Even if you get the same order each time you visit the restaurant, you’re likely going to be interested to see what is being displayed on the menu.
Automated Ordering Systems
When investing in digital signage, a common first thought can be how these solutions are going to drive KPIs — increase foot traffic and sales, improve speed of service and improve the customer experience. However, the improvements that restaurant technology can make on the operations side are just as important.
Automated ordering systems can minimize the need for extra staff members (or offset unexpected lack of labor) by taking accurate orders, and sending them straight to back of house employees. The crew can easily scan the required items to be able to create and fulfill the orders. Payment automation, such as a QR code scan, also eliminates the need to have someone at the register at all times, so that employees can focus on more important or customer-experience based tasks. These solutions can also give real-time inventory updates, so that customers know what’s out of stock as soon as they go to fill their basket or place their order.
In addition to creating a seamless workflow, these automated systems allow for contactless experiences for customers who prefer it. During the pandemic, restaurants had to quickly shift their focus to creating additional ways customers could get their favorite foods, while also complying with the ever changing regulations that were put into place. More eateries were offering curbside pickup and online ordering options which customers gladly participated in. Three years later, these options are constantly being used, attracting customers by offering a more seamless experience of picking up food and placing orders without having to step foot inside a restaurant or talking with a single crew member.
Modernize Pick-Up with Digital Shelf Edge Displays
Convenience is top of mind for everyone these days. Whether a delivery driver or a direct customer is picking up an order, the process should be as seamless and efficient as possible for both the guests and the crew members. Cluttered countertops with multiple orders scattered across lead to inaccurate pickups, crowding, missing items, and unsatisfied customers. Additionally, there needs to be more accurate order fulfillment updates so that customers aren’t waiting longer than expected.
Digital menu boards, automated ordering systems and digital shelf edge displays go hand-in-hand in creating flawless order pickup experiences. Ordering systems can be used to place in-store orders, which get sent to back of house staff for fulfillment. Clearly designed, large-format digital signs are placed in pickup areas, displaying order status, wait times, and any other necessary order information such as name or order number. Once guests approach the pickup area, digital shelf edge displays dynamically update to show which order is ready for pickup, in a clutter-free way. For an advanced solution, sensors on the pickup shelf are used to track the weight of orders and associate it with the corresponding customers, ensuring nothing gets left behind.
Having these solutions integrate with personal devices is a huge bonus, as a customer could place an order online and still have access to the order queue, wait times and more. Additionally, being able to access on-screen messaging through personal devices goes one step further in creating a wholly personalized experience. Digital shelf edge displays not only create efficiencies within the order pick up process, but create an accurate, easy to read and modernized environment that customers enjoy returning to.
Personalization with Smart Signage
To create truly personalized messaging and order accuracy throughout a restaurant, sensor-based solutions are needed. A combination of sensor-based insights and AI allows digital menu boards to become “smart,” allowing for menu board optimization and customization. This gives customers the satisfying experience expected, while giving brands the data needed to drive sales and increase revenue.
While personalization is a big draw for many consumers, it also contributes to brands getting the data — beyond just POS — required to get a full view of their restaurant. In a one-to-many scenario inside the restaurant, menus are optimized through these insights in real time, promoting the highest margin items to the right audience at the right time. When tied to a “known” loyalty or mobile app customer, the customization in the drive thru can be one-to-one messaging, equivalent of asking if they’d like “the usual” and suggesting items they may want to add to their order. This level of personalization allows brands to create dynamic campaigns in real time that are tailored to each customer, ensuring that the appropriate promotions and product recommendations are offered to the customer.
The analytics collected are stored on a cloud-based platform and are easily accessible so that new promotions and marketing campaigns can be rolled out to drive sales and increase traffic and engagement. Our Walkbase technology is robust and customizable so that brands can focus on the data they want to see, rather than sifting through what’s not as important. The software also allows for seamless integration with POS, web sources and additional data sources.
Smart digital solutions are transforming the restaurant industry. By creating seamless operations for crew members, and consistently smooth experiences for customers, they are becoming a necessary part of the food service industry. It was even found that 39% of respondents in the QSR® Drive-Thru Report survey preferred digital menus because “they were easier to read.” Overall, automated systems, digital menu and preview menu boards and sensor based solutions are allowing restaurant staff to work more efficiently while navigating labor shortages and pre-pandemic crowds returning.