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Restaurants are Using Digital Menus to Gain a Competitive Advantage

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The typical customer experience at restaurants is uninspiring. The order taker welcomes the patron. He or she may list off some specials then disappear, coming back only for transactional purposes like recording orders and dropping off food.

Digital menus introduce an entirely new way for customers to interact with a restaurant, and vis versa.

Today’s technology enables servers to focus less on transactional tasks, provides direct advertising opportunities for the restaurant, and streamlines operations and service. Consumers are already using digital technology to decide where to eat: using their mobile devices to read reviews, make reservations, and look up directions to get to restaurants. A study completed by the found that 23% of respondents have ordered takeout through digital technology within the last month. Over half of the respondents would use digital technology to order takeout if it were offered.

Outside the restaurant, mobile applications for dining have exploded into a crowded ecosystem including companies such as Eat24, Urbanspoon, Foodler, and GrubHub.  Online delivery is growing quickly, particularly within metropolitan centers. And the food delivery aspect of the industry is quickly attracting tech giants like Uber and Amazon in a classic case of companies applying their core discipline for competitive advantage – distribution tasks handled by distribution firms, leaving restaurateurs to focus on food creation.

Digital Tablet Menu Features

Digital tablet menus offer many benefits:

  • Provide picture representation of menu items and support cross sale and up sale
  • Ensure special requests and choices are recorded and communicated to the kitchen staff
  • Allow diners to track progress of food preparation
  • Provide the restaurant the ability to update the menu in real time and remove sold out offerings
  • Provide diners with information on the restaurant, dishes, chefs, past patrons, local attractions and more
  • Streamline the ordering process
  • Streamline the payment and tipping process
  • Enable feedback

Consumer facing benefits to Digital Menus

Digital menus can streamline processes and free-up staff to focus on value-add activities rather than transactional activities. If the wait staff is not occupied with recording orders, and getting orders into the kitchen they can focus attention on the customer. A typical ordering interaction consists of a waiter or waitress hearing orders and memorizing them or being face down in their notepad trying to get each order and who ordered it recorded. By eliminating the order taking responsibilities, wait staff can focus on engaging with the customers and making their dining experience more personal.

Along with the direct boost in staff engagement with diners, digital menus provide a way for guests to give feedback that can be addressed immediately. When ’s restaurant rolled out digital menus as an experiment they found that guests were 20-30% more likely to provide feedback with the digital capability. This feature enables managers to be notified in real-time, apologize if necessary to guests or otherwise resolve the circumstances before the patrons leave the restaurant, and notify staff of negative practices that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Customization is a key benefit for both the customer and the establishment. Digital menus increase the ability to effectively customize the order to the diner’s preferences. Whether it is ordering extra salt, no cheese or sauce on the side, diners often have special preferences. Many will not order to their exact liking out of fear of burdening the wait staff, appearing high maintenance to other diners or thinking that the waiter or waitress will not remember. This represents an easy way to improve your customers experience and provide them with a meal tailored to their specifications.

Digital menus can send direct, timely, customer-relevant marketing material and product information to patrons. The use of technology enables further customer engagement and allows restaurants to publish content for diners.  Customer loyalty can be built by enhanced interaction and educating of the customer. It can track previous orders and encourage trying other dishes in the future. Diners have the opportunity to learn more about the dishes, restaurant, location, history and other interesting facts to supplement a positive dining experience. This positive experience and guest engagement along with the ease of signing up for loyalty programs digitally leads to customers being 10 times more likely to sign up to a loyalty club when through a digital menu. (Chili’s rollout)

Chili’s rolled out tablets across numerous locations and found that both appetizer sales and dessert sales increased by 20% in locations with tablets.

Digital menus enable pairing recommendations and introduce direct upsell and cross-sale opportunities to restaurants. A dessert becomes much more difficult to resist when it is offered with clear, high definition photos and videos. It is less uncomfortable to order a dessert through a technological device than it is through a person, who may raise the fear of judgment.  Ordering more or being recommended a different product increases satisfaction for diners and introduces incremental revenue opportunities. After switching menus to digital, the vendor D reports their clients have increased sales between 10-15% on average.

Of the downsides, the most critical, especially for individual restaurants, is the cost of the technology and its implementation. Other considerations that arise from the use of such technology include the impact to ambiance, and the impact to staff. Recognizing that each non-franchise restaurant is unique, these factors must, of course, be analyzed on a case by case basis. For chains such as Chili’s and Dyna-Menu, their experiments have shown that the benefits outweigh the costs.

How does your competitive strategy measure up to other companies?




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