July 4th will undoubtedly be a day of celebration not just for hospitality professionals, but for the whole country, as bars, pubs and restaurants are given the green light to open their doors once more.
But happiness will be mingled with apprehension for many restaurant owners, wondering how social distancing measures can be upheld successfully, while still providing an excellent service for their customers. Without complete confidence in health and safety, customers will be much less likely to return, as will revenue. Combined with the end of the government’s financial support, the stakes will be even higher.
Independent research from YouGov suggests customers will spend more eating out to help support the industry when lockdown ends. Businesses should take comfort in the fact that the hospitality industry is a fundamental part of the cultural fabric of the nation, and the public want to see companies succeed.
While this is reassuring for the hospitality sector, it is not a get out of jail free card. Businesses must capitalise on these new customers and loyal locals from the outset by proving that a post-covid-19 restaurant experience is not only safe but also enjoyable.
Investment in technology will be vital to achieve this.
Technology has already played a critical role in keeping restaurants and pubs afloat since they closed their doors at the end of March. During lockdown, many businesses across the UK quickly pivoted to provide a takeaway service online or via an app as a way to sustain revenues. Normally, at best, such a transformation would have taken weeks, but the emergency forced companies to do so in a matter of days.
This push for businesses to become tech-savvy will stand restaurants in good stead when 4th July arrives, but companies must continue to ride the technology wave as doors reopen to prime themselves for the challenging months ahead.
Takeaway services which sprang up during lockdown should not be seen as a short-term fix, but a long-term proposition. Not only does a delivery service make the best use of the chef’s productive time and kitchen resources, but it will also drive incremental revenue after dine-in customers return, which will be critical to re-build balance sheets.
But how will technology be harnessed beyond takeaway as customers start to come through the doors for a dine-in service?
Simply introducing new behavioural measures will rarely be enough on its own. Requiring staff to change gloves for every customer, or asking diners to remove their own plates, can be expensive, time-consuming and impractical.
Pre-lockdown, forward-thinking restaurant owners had found success with technology that enables customers to order from their table via a smartphone app. Now this technology will come into its own. The Chancellor recently stated that adopting apps to order food would be a good option for businesses emerging from lockdown closure. The software gives customers confidence they can receive food and drinks with limited staff contact and vice versa.
But the potential for the technology to reduce queues and person-to-person contact goes beyond simply ordering from a chosen table. The software is also used to allow customers to order food from a hotel room, airport gate or even seats at a concert.
Self-service kiosks will also play a role in the transition back to “normal” service. The digital touchscreen allows customers to order via a screen instead of speaking to a cashier. Kiosks can drastically reduce both the size of queues and the number of person-to-person interactions.
Profit margins can also benefit, as research shows the average basket is 20-30% bigger when purchased through systems such as a digital kiosk. International chains like McDonald’s were some of the first to adopt the technology but, several years later, it isn’t just for brands with big budgets.
Businesses of all sizes will be further challenged over the coming weeks and months following July 4th. Emerging from the Covid-19 induced slump will be a marathon not a sprint, but those who prove they can adapt quickly will have a significant head start. In this race, technology will be a powerful ally which will not only fight today’s battles, but boost business success far into the future, when the days of Covid-19 are a distant memory.
By Conor McCarthy , CEO of Flipdish