CHEF’S CORNER: Why digital menus and mobile ordering are here to stay long after Covid has been beaten

John Wood, KitchenCUT

There is no doubt that there are huge benefits to mobile ordering on both sides of the table, both now and in the post-Covid world. Michelin starred chef and F&B Business consultant, John Wood, looks at why mobile ordering is here to stay…

Recovery isn’t linear, and for the hospitality industry, the route back to normality is likely to be far from direct.

As hospitality closes, reopens, adapts to the ebb and flow of changing restrictions, it is fundamental that businesses are equipped to be as agile and responsive as possible.

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The implementation and continued use of mobile ordering is one such way of staying ahead of the curve, not only for the current pandemic, but as insurance against future challenges.

Not only that, but something that was and will continue to be a necessity, could provide the foundations for a new era of hospitality and avenues for profit that were previously unexplored.

As Simon Haynes, CTO of Kitchen Cut, points out: “The pandemic has forced the hand of operators to adapt quickly. Where, historically, there may have been a lack of awareness about how to adopt a mobile ordering system with little cost or effort, many independents have really boomed by taking the plunge and managing a new service themselves.

In spite of this, non-tech operators are wary of change and so there are still barriers on take-up.  One obstacle probably felt by many is the complex nature around chargeable rates and fees as there is a huge variance across the market with mixed offerings of hardware and software as well as the underlying transaction fee.”

1. Customer benefits

Convenience and ease – Customers have started to realise that ordering and paying at table is not only easy, but that they also get served faster. With order at table, they don’t have to leave the conversation to stand 15 minutes at a bar that is 5 deep in people, waving a credit card and trying to catch a bartender’s attention.

Nor is there the inevitable battle back to the table, carrying multiple drinks, hoping that no one bumps into you!

Instead, customers can remain seated with their party (in this sense, mobile ordering actually improves the social element of eating out). Customers can easily order what they want when they are ready.

Appealing to a new generation of tech savvy customers – Technology is more the ‘norm’ with the younger generations, to the extent that it is expected, even required.

With apps, online ordering and same day delivery becoming commonplace in retail, hospitality will need to keep up and whilst the pandemic has provided the necessity to do that, the new generation of tech savvy customer will continue to reap the rewards far into the future.

Instant information on specials, availability, allergens and nutrition – Live, digital menus provide the customer with the latest information. If an item is no longer available, it’s automatically removed from the menu, so no customer has to feel the frustration of making a choice only to find out there are none left!

Not only that, but a digital menu can display allergy and nutritional information, so that the customer can quickly align their menu choices with any special dietary requirements, as well as being able to see specials too.

Eradicate the wait to pay – Delay in paying the bill is usually top in surveys about guest dissatisfaction. Mobile payments eliminate this frustration. Customers can pay, tip and leave when they are ready, rather than having to wait for a member of staff to become available.

2. Operator benefits

On the other side of the table, operators are also seeing the huge benefits of implementing mobile ordering.

Cost savings with cashless payments – The option for online payment reduces need for cash handling.  Operators are able to shop around for the best transaction rates in what is likely to become a much more competitive marketplace.

Increased orders – the fulfilment model increases the amount of manageable orders.

Ticket size is typically higher – faced with a queue at the bar or a busy sitting where the wait time for service is too long, customers are more likely to order again via a device.

Transparency of orders, volumes, fees and tax – the interface behind the customer experience allows the operator to track orders, monitor payments, trends and tax as well as providing a dashboard and settings to control the flow of orders, so that the kitchen and/bar don’t get overwhelmed at any time.

Drives efficiency and reduces labour costs – a digital menu and payment system that can be updated with specials and that automatically updates as items go out of stock means that there’s a reduced requirement for staff to take customer orders. The front of house skill set will therefore be less specialised, with ‘runners’ delivering and removing plates.

Market and engage with customers in a new format – with customers already engaged on their devices, operators will be able to encourage them to visit their website, follow on social media, complete feedback forms, and share specialised offers with the user as well as the opportunity to upsell.

Manage many menus easily – whilst paper menus have been shunned as a result of the pandemic, the introduction of digital menus across more and more operations is proving to be beneficial in other ways.

The removal of printing costs is an obvious benefit, but more so is the flexibility to update and amend menus quickly – if there’s a typo, it can be quickly rectified. If your supplier lets you down, items can be simply removed. Menus are always ‘live’ so are fully up to date on allergens, nutritional information, product availability and specials.

Adjust your sales mix – as well as a move to offering takeaway and delivery, the pandemic has given rise to a whole new ‘from home’ eating experience. A step on from traditional take away, this option allows the customer to pre-order and pay online for their favourite dishes from their favourite restaurants and then reheat and eat at their leisure.

Whether you want to offer in venue dining only, from home boxes, takeaway or delivery, mobile ordering will provide the flexibility to provide any or all.

Enable pre-booking/party orders – Encouraging customers to pre-order with mobile ordering is a great way to reduce service time and to turn tables quickly. By using a digital menu, your customers can see what’s available, select what they’d like to eat and even pay for it in advance.  It’s an ideal system for party orders too, whether you require a deposit or payment in full, they can make their menu choices, pay and look forward to their meal.

No more walk outs  – Managing a large venue with a garden can be challenging enough, but if customers walk out without paying, that can be damaging to a business. With mobile ordering, the risk of this happening is eliminated.

Of course, there will always be people who would disagree that mobile ordering is the way forward.  Hospitality is all about the food, but it’s also about the social experience. Ensuring that the customer journey is still personable could be a challenge, a great waiter with knowledge of the menu and a great personality is hard to beat.

Fundamentally there will always be customers who prefer waiter service, just as there will be people who enjoy going to the bar for their drinks.

However, with a growing population of the technically adept, the successful businesses will be those who cater to both, those who manage to combine the efficiency and cost effectiveness of mobile ordering with the personal touch and flare that has made hospitality what it is today.

About John Wood

John Wood’s career in the culinary sector has taken him to Europe, Asia, South Africa and Dubai. He has worked at some of the best 5-star establishments in the world, including the Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, the Mount Nelson, Cape Town, and the Island Shangri-la, Hong Kong.

Mr Wood has also worked extensively in some of the UK’s most prestigious hotels, such as The Savoy, The Dorchester and Cliveden, gaining a Michelin star at the latter in Waldo’s restaurant.

After working as a chef for over 25 years in the hospitality industry, he set up his own consultancy business in 2007 and launched cloud-based F&B management system Kitchen CUT.

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Andrew Seymour

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