One of the most significant changes over the last 18 months, particularly for traditional table-service restaurants, has been adopting wide-ranging off-premise dining options and the systems that run them. Online ordering, third-party delivery integration, self-service options, and hybrid service models have seen explosive growth.
Now, as dining rooms are filling up again, some operators are wondering, “Well, do I need to continue with such a big off-premise strategy?” or even “I haven’t implemented all of this stuff yet, but since things are getting back to normal, maybe I don’t need to.”
For some, the off-premise shift has been more challenging than others. Some establishments had a longer road to travel to get to a place that had a cohesive take-out, delivery, and digital strategy depending on concept and menu.
The effort is worth it though, and any thoughts of slowing down on the guest experience outside of the dining room should carefully consider that trends were pointing to guest preferences for delivery, take-out, and digital capabilities even before the pandemic.
So if the question is “How long does off-premise matter?” the answer is probably “For the foreseeable future.” This doesn’t mean every operator has to embrace every aspect of the digital guest experience – but it does suggest looking at the benefits of a comprehensive strategy:
- It’s what guests want. Almost universally, regardless of demographic, guests want a compelling digital experience. By understanding what works for their service and how that translates to a guest experience outside of the walls of the restaurant, proprietors can generate new revenue streams with relatively little additional cost.
- Relationships last longer than specials. A well-planned off-premise or digital strategy puts the guest at the center, delivering a consistent experience that embodies the operator’s brand and vision. Knowing who guests are – even just via email & text – and establishing a connection fosters loyalty in both directions, benefiting the guest and the business. Guests want to support their local restaurants and businesses and will do so if given the opportunity.
- It helps both sides of the equation – Revenue and Costs. We’ve written before about the efficiencies of technology such as mobile POS, contactless payment, and omni-channel order management. By smoothing out the slow times, increasing table turns, increasing check sizes, and reducing workload, these approaches directly improve the bottom line – while also making guests happier!
So it seems that as dining rooms, patios, bars, and hotels return to normal traffic levels, operators also have to continue to push ahead online and outside the premise. What’s next?
- Have a plan—both a long-term vision and the short-term steps to get there. Keeping the guest-centric philosophy, think through the experience. Can the guest save preferences in our online ordering system? Do our loyalty rewards provide a compelling incentive? How much of our revenue do we want from take-out/delivery? Are our menu and experience conducive to having the dishes travel? If not, should we consider a ghost-brand offering food more tailored to traveling?
- Don’t get trapped. Some solutions are fast and low cost but don’t allow you to take the next step, trapping the business with a workable but static solution. That’s not always avoidable, but planning for technology that is flexible enough to provide a path for growth and integrating new capabilities can pay big dividends down the road.
- Embrace change. There is no crystal ball, and we’ve seen how drastically the market and industry can change and how resilient it is. The vision and experience a restaurant offers are more than the sum of its parts, encompassing all the interactions across all mediums between the operator and the guest. New technology and capabilities will continue to emerge. By planning to change while staying true to the brand, operators can continue to innovate and achieve their business goals.
All information seems to point out that guests will expect consistent and guest-centric digital service now and into the future. Delivering on that is an opportunity for businesses to exceed guest expectations and improve revenue—a win-win situation.
Let’s talk about planning for the future together.