Here are 9 ways restaurant tech can pave the way for off-premise ordering success

Published April 23, 2021

Off-premise ordering has been gaining in popularity over the past couple of years as more consumers have been opting to go digital for their food and delivery needs—with more desire for ease and convenience. However, that shift has been kicked into overdrive during the pandemic.

According to a National Restaurant Association survey conducted August 26—September 1 2020, 71 percent of restaurants say that off-premise operations now “represent a higher proportion of their total business than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Curbside additions have been the most common, with 67 percent of restaurants adding the off-premise service since the pandemic. And 27 percent said they’ve added third-party delivery with 17 percent saying they now offer in-house delivery.

And most restaurant operators say the new off-premise additions are here to stay—so, providing your customers with the best takeout, curbside pickup and delivery experience is more important than ever. And adapting to suit these changing needs may not be as hard as you think.

Here are nine ways technology can help to create an excellent customer experience and take the heat off your kitchen.

1. Centralize order and menu management.

Partly thanks to their digital devices, today’s consumers are used to getting what they want, when they want it. From placing orders to paying with their digital wallets, accommodating your customers' expectations can add complexity to your operations. If you’re unable to manage them, it can impact customer satisfaction and your bottom line. So, leveraging a centralized ordering system is key to reducing those mistakes.

You can streamline and simplify order flow by integrating all your ordering channels, including third-party delivery providers, into one point-of-sale and restaurant management platform. Every order can be automated, routed to the kitchen seamlessly and queued in the right place. This makes it easy for you to track and analyze the best and least performing menu items based on detailed reports of incoming orders. That way, you can make insightful changes to your menu giving your customers what they want and ensuring they see the updates everywhere they can access them—from your website to your mobile app to social media.

2. Forecast order volume.

Have you ever been caught off guard by a sudden influx of off-premise orders, causing you to run out of your best-selling items? Keeping track of on-premise orders and front-of-house demands is one thing, but adding off-premise orders into the mix can make it harder to anticipate how all demands are being met.

Leveraging restaurant analytics collected from your POS system can help you view detailed sales reports from your restaurant’s history to make forecasting easier. The right systems allow you to compare dates and look at peak sales by the hour or even by menu item. A POS system with inventory management software will provide a comprehensive view into your sales and allow you to make sharper projections.

Using the right technology will enable you to better predict peak periods and provide information on what you’ll need for that day—helping your kitchen staff ramp up accordingly to meet your customers’ demands.

Read how Fresco’s turned to NCR Aloha Essentials to get set up with online ordering which made it easy for Fresco’s to start taking 100% off-premise orders. 

3. Secure the transaction.

While you’re busy trying to provide the best off-premise experience, online criminals may be trying to steal your customers’ personal and payment information. Ensuring your networks and payment applications are properly protected is vital to keep hackers at bay and your customers’ data safe.

To protect cardholder data, separate your POS network from the other systems in your restaurant. This allows you to focus on securing the POS environment with critical safety measures such as tight firewall restrictions, timely security updates, up-to-date antivirus, log management and so on. And don’t forget to ensure that your POS platform offers data encryption, EMV chip reader tech and other security features.

4. Fire only when ready.

Your culinary delights can be the best there is, but if your food is cold by the time your guest arrives, you run the risk of losing customer loyalty. When your customer places an order for a later pickup, it has to be ready by that time. In fact, as reported by Restaurant Dive “four out of 10 customers believe waiting longer than four minutes for pickup is too long, while 81 percent feel frustrated waiting 10 minutes or more.” 

Managing order flow traffic can be a challenge as digital orders are placed with varying pickup or delivery times. That’s where the right kitchen technology comes in. There are several technology companies today that specialize in automated messaging and artificial intelligence technology to reduce curbside delivery time. With the right technology, you can hold the order in a queue and, based on the customer’s arrival time, fire it to the kitchen at the right time to have the food freshly prepared and ready to go.

Geofencing location technology can also help you correctly time guests’ orders. When they start pulling up to your restaurant, you can be notified to start gathering their order; you can even give them personalized directions on how to retrieve their order. According to Restaurant Dive, geofencing for pickups is fast becoming the go-to tech for restaurants because it can help reduce wait times and streamline the pickup process, especially when it comes to curbside pickup.

5. Synchronize order items across stations.

If you’re having trouble ensuring that each item of the order is ready at the same time, then it’s time to invest in the right kitchen technology. Today’s technology can schedule your orders automatically and intelligently based on prep time and time of pickup. It will enable your kitchen staff to prepare each item in the right order, so all the parts of your customer’s order are ready at once.

Routing order items to the right stations efficiently will be a lot easier so everything is ready together—just in time for your pick-up or delivery.

6. Provide real-time data.

Getting real-time data on your kitchen’s performance is vital for efficiently managing the volume of your off-premise orders. Advanced kitchen technology can help you gain greater visibility into your operations.

From monitoring average cooking times to analyzing speed-of-service levels in real time, you can access your kitchen data anytime, anywhere. Having the insights needed for smarter decision-making—whether it’s staffing your kitchen or maintaining your inventory—will help you meet today’s demands in an off-premise, digital-first world.

7. Keep the customer informed.

There are many benefits to ordering online or through an app, but one of the reservations guests may have is the lack of visibility; guests can’t be at your restaurant to ensure someone heard their order or see that it’s being made. So, they’re going to need feedback and transparency along the way. After they place an order, your customers will want confirmation that it’s been received, and they want to be notified when it’s ready.

Kitchen technology integrated with your digital channels can help you keep your customers informed. While you’re filling orders in the kitchen, it will automatically push notifications to your guests. With this added communication, guests aren’t left wondering if you got their order, if they’ll be there long after it’s hot and ready, or if they’ll end up waiting inside while you finish the order.

8. Direct the customer flow.

Offering multiple, off-premise options means more people will be coming to your restaurant to do different things, whether it’s picking up online orders, grabbing 3rd party deliveries or getting in line to order. This can make it hard for guests to know where to go, creating confusion and frustration.

Keep guest flow moving and clearly designate different areas with flexible, digital signage. You can proactively communicate with guests to help them navigate your restaurant properly. You can also leverage digital signage to provide real-time order updates to lessen the congestion at the pickup counter.

9. Reward customer loyalty.

Give your off-premise customers reasons to keep coming back for more. Chances are, you already have a loyalty program in place, but using a mobile app will enhance it by allowing you to get creative with your offers and changing them up to see what works best.

You’ll also gain valuable customer data that you can leverage for marketing initiatives as well as create one-on-one engagements with your customers that drive repeat visits and build customer retention. Redeeming points or coupons always entices customers to come back for a visit next time they start craving a delicious meal.

Let innovation help you keep up

Using advanced technology is essential in achieving off-premise ordering success. Whether it’s real-time data or impactful signage, today’s technology can help you streamline orders from end to end, stay efficient and give your customers a great guest experience. And, during the pandemic, you can use this time to perfect off-premise services your customers are going to want in the new normal.

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