All being well, Covid restrictions in England will end on 19th July with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales following suit soon after. Among the recently announced changes affecting restaurants are the scrapping of QR-code sign-in, limits on social contact, the resumption of table and bar service together with no capacity restrictions.
We think that's great for the restaurant and hospitality sector, as it gives those businesses the opportunity to recoup the significant amount of revenue lost over the past eighteen months and get back to some degree of financial normality. Thinking of those eighteen months also reminds us of how adhering to these precautions has become second nature to guests safeguarding their health, so it would be prudent to expect some customers (and restaurant owners/staff) to want to see some sensible options in place at their favourite eating and drinking haunts.
Those cautious customers will be of significant importance in a world where every customer is “gold dust”, so here are five innovations which customers will expect, and which are probably here to stay.
There's something quintessentially “right” about having a physical menu or specials board in a restaurant, pub or café bar. We all know that customers like the tactile feel of a physical menu: be it an ornate wooden binder or simple laminated card, the menu has been the signature of the establishment since time began.
We have to accept, however, that the drive towards online menus started long before the pandemic, driven by the uptake of new personal technology and the way current generations like to interact with their favourite brands. The arrival of the pandemic simply accelerated the need for contactless menus and their roll-out gave a level of comfort during a time of physical constraint. As the current restrictions ease, it is unlikely that those customers aligned with such technologies will want to see regression here, rather, their popularity will continue to rise.
Online menus at their most basic are text or image files available for download and perusal at home by the diner, prior to making their booking some other way. As the demand for online access to food choices has grown, so has the technology – the best systems now feature interactive menus on the restaurant's website and the ability to search based on key criteria, such as price, allergens or personal favourites. Taking this further, customers are now able to download the restaurant's app, browse the choices and order while seated within the restaurant.
For customers not wishing to fight their way to the bar or till to order, access to an order-at-table option make sense. It can come in various forms, but the most popular are smartphone apps which allow diners to browse the restaurant's menu from the comfort of their table, choose what they want and order it there and then on their own device.
With the right technology the order is sent to the kitchen for fulfilment and the transactional details stored and processed in the usual way, via the e-pos system and restaurant management system.
Similarly, pay-at-table completes the transactional journey with little, or even zero, face-to-face contact. Options vary according to the restaurant's preferences, but again smartphone apps linked to proprietary payment gateways are popular, along with web app-based payment portals starting with a QR code. The cash goes straight to the business while the customer is able to settle up (and leave a tip) before departing.
A second hybrid option is via the use of order pads (in truth, hand-held tablets) and mobile chip & pin terminals brought to the table by the restaurant's service staff. This method allows for a more personalised service yet retains a degree of distance and contactless interaction.
Both methods require a moderate investment by the restaurant in hardware, a restaurant management system and of course decent Wi-Fi aligned to a robust and secure internet connection and network.
Restrictions on the amount of customers allowed in to restaurants coupled with rules on table proximity have severely hampered those business's ability to make money, so the relaxation of these rules is very welcome. We should consider, however, that restaurateurs will choose to carefully manage their capacity in a bid to thwart the ongoing spread of the virus and give customers a sense of safety following months of exposure to guidelines and edicts. Ironically, we may see a growing sentiment against restaurants which cram their floors with extra tables, chairs and elbow-banging customers and that would be a shame because restaurateurs will need to cherish every diner.
Dining out is all about having a fantastic experience and in many instances it is not when that matters to the customer, but what. In times when customers will seek a degree of space, it will be prudent to pay careful attention to the way capacity is managed.
Thankfully for restaurateurs, there are a variety of cutting-edge and inexpensive solutions on the market which do the the hard work automatically by running clever algorithms and scheduling availability according to pre-set parameters. Put simply, restaurants using this system have an e-based floor plan mapped to availability, which then feeds the customer-facing booking systems which means capacity and table distancing can never be exceeded.
While we're on the subject of floor plans, we should mention an exciting opportunity currently available to restaurateurs and driven by technology. We all know about restaurants switching fully or in part to take-away and delivery, right? Doing so made a nice quick-fire income stream for restaurant, pub and cafe bar owners at the height of the pandemic's restrictions but came with a downside – for an establishment with a full kitchen brigade more attuned to pre-booked à la carte dining, the switch to what in many instances amounted to providing fast food takeaway was difficult to implement.
But there is another way: dining-at-home. By offering pre-booked fine dining on a delivery basis, restaurants are able to extend their physical floor plans by using the customer's home as their own. By adopting this concept, the brigade can see orders days, weeks or months in advance, maintain the correct inventory and staff, and get meals out of the kitchen onto customers' plates. In effect, the face that the waiter is replaced by a delivery need not concern them. With just a bit of tech, restaurants can have a new sales channel without significant disruption to how they have always done things.
The above systems to manage capacity to pre-set limits are all well and good, but what happens if the technology simply can't find a slot for a would-be diner and the computer says no? Well, there's a solution for that scenario in the form of waiting lists. Restaurants have always have some form of manual waiting or stand-by list, often recording the details of customers wanting to arrive on a specific date and time as a prompt for is a slot becomes available and in normal times these would probably continue to suffice.
The expected release of pent-up demand for restaurant tables coupled with an ongoing need for a degree of capacity management suggests that something a little more sophisticated may be the answer for business owners wanting to maximise their revenue.
Well-written and contemporary restaurant management systems contain neat tools to allocate diners to e-waiting lists if they so choose, with the subsequent availability of previously booked tables automatically moving the wait-list customers to confirmed diners. That's neat, but the best systems go a step further and let the customer know they now have a table, by way of email, SMS or social media.
2020 and 2021 have both been difficult years for restaurants, pubs and cafe bars due to significant and revenue-zapping restrictions on how they operate. The removal of restrictions in England will open the flood gates to pent-up demand, but with a twist – many diners now accustomed to precautions around social contact will expect to see and experience pragmatism in this regard when enjoying a drink or a meal out. Counter-intuitively, restaurant owners who go back to zero precautions overnight are likely to miss out on custom.
Customers, particularly technology-natives, had increasingly come to expect restaurants to operate contemporary systems in order to provide a great experience, including via web portals and smartphones and covering the entire customer journey.
There is no reason to suspect this demand will decrease, rather, we are likely to see a greater appetite for an evidence-based approach to restaurants' attitudes regarding not just technology, but its deployment in the safeguarding arena
favouritetable is the leading technology provider for food an drink businesses in the UK. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and easy-to-use systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue.
Call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to demonstrate what you will achieve with the right technology.