Off-Premise Dining During COVID-19: From Luxury to Lifeboat
No longer is off-premise ordering considered a mere luxury but an essential revenue stream for restaurants in survival mode during uncertain times. With the digital transformation of restaurants, the industry received an inadvertent steroid boost. Amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, public facilities, and businesses in cities across the country have shut down for the health and personal protection of their communities. Many urban areas are under “shelter-in-place” restrictions causing many businesses to require employees to work from home. Off-premise dining during COVID-19 has the potential to revolutionize the future of our industry.
Within days of the continual crisis updates and announcements, restaurants lost all dine-in traffic and the bulk of their staff. Now, off-premise ordering, what many operators initially considered a luxury in producing incremental revenue to their dine-in business, is the lifeboat for the industry.
Even with off-premise ordering front and center, restaurants need to consider both short-term and long-term arrangements not just to survive the current crisis but thrive beyond it. Here are three key off-premise opportunities for restaurants to embrace:
Digital Ordering Direct from Restaurant Site
It seems like a no-brainer, but many industry experts consider digital ordering opportunities to be in its earliest innings of the game. And now, with COV-19, digital ordering is a necessity.
However, many restaurants are merely leaning on third-party delivery services like GrubHub to carry them during the uncertainty the industry faces. As a response, some third-party delivery services have deferred fees for the crisis. But while a deferment provides some temporary relief, when the mess begins to subside, those same high fees will return – and will continue to be hefty (upwards to 30% or more of every order). Not to mention, the delivery services are still keeping the customer data.
A lasting remedy for restaurants is a direct online and mobile ordering solution for their website. Having your own site is a solution that can be less expensive to launch and deploy than relying on third-party services while allowing restaurants to keep customer data for additional marketing purposes.
Not all online ordering solutions are equal, especially when considering operational velocity and customer options. The best, like Order One, doesn’t just check the box to satisfy the digital ordering need but provides operators who desire control over the customer experience, menus (either full menu or limited), alcohol sales, and pricing. Order One also is equipped with modules like integrated delivery, loyalty programs, and promotional marketing controls to accelerate additional orders through digital channels.
Digital Curbside Pickup
It’s hard to say how many restaurants were employing a curbside pickup program before the health scare and social distancing regulations. From anecdotal experience, it seems like a minimum at most.
Now the “Curbside Pick-up” term is used everywhere, and not just with restaurants. Retail and wholesale stores are now offering the same. With so much concern over social distancing, curbside pickup is becoming a natural add-on service. And digital curbside pickup is now bringing the benefits of drive-thru convenience to traditional restaurants without drive-thru lanes and windows.
The restaurants adding this feature along with customer order status prompts to their digital experience are optimizing the experience to provide a multitude of options for their customers to engage. Whether during our time, social distancing or beyond, convenience and safety (i.e., minimal physical engagement) is a winning strategy for a lot of people.
Voice Ordering for Takeout and Delivery
Call ahead orders are one of the off-premise opportunities beginning to re-emerge for restaurants that have traditionally relied on foot traffic. For restaurants with a skeleton crew these days and no digital ordering, the old school phone is now a valuable safety net for takeout orders. With so many employees getting furloughed during the crisis, it’s logical that the phone experience hasn’t improved. Why?
Restaurant staff is overtaxed in their daily responsibilities to maximize output. The remaining restaurant staff is spread thin between all of the other duties. Their tasks include walk-in takeout orders, delivery expediter, cashier, kitchen teammate, and the odds and end work that every business needs. While most customers are patient, knowing the crisis is wreaking havoc on service and processes for restaurants, a lousy phone experience may still turn them away to other restaurants.
Restaurants are partnering with voice ordering providers that provide the software, tools, and even the agents, to handle the calls to facilitate and submit the order correctly. This software offers the best overall experience to create loyal brand champions.
Uncertainty is difficult for both restaurateurs and guests alike, and especially for those within the restaurant industry trying to survive. To thrive beyond the crisis, restaurants need to employ solutions that make sense for the short term and long term without compromising the guest experience. After all, is said and done, when normalcy (whatever that may look like) begins to return, there is no guarantee that foot traffic returns to the same level as before the crisis – so quick short term solutions will not be enough to thrive. But with the right steps in your strategy for off-premise dining during COVID-19, you can increase your opportunities for higher sales and customer retention during troubled times.
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About the Author
Rich Earle is the Director of Marketing for Restaurant Revolution Technologies (Revolution), a SaaS digital ordering provider and off-premise partner for restaurants. Revolution partners with chain restaurant clients to grow their off-premise business by making their food more convenient for customers. Aside from working at Revolution, Rich enjoys traveling, live music, baseball, college basketball, and quality time with his son. Contact Rich and the Revolution team via the Revolution corporate website at www.rrtusa.com.