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How to Build a Winning Restaurant in the Digital World

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Although speed and convenience are highly prized by customers in today’s digital environment, the best way for restaurants to win new customers is evolving. For most restaurant owners and operators, winning means increasing visits and cheque size. But this isn’t guaranteed. It entails transforming your business into one that is digitally enabled and data-driven, borrowing from the successful strategies of companies that are already winning online.

The pervasiveness of digital devices and services has transformed the way consumers work, live, play, and how they dine out. As consumers increasingly embrace digital channels, their expectations are also changing; they expect comparable levels of convenience and immediacy when visiting a restaurant as they do when shopping online.

A recent Eagle Eye study, Changing Tastes and Flavours, surveyed 2,000 Canadian consumers about their dining habits and found a growing preference for convenience options. Restaurant delivery (+18%), getting fast food (+13%) and buying prepared foods from the grocery store (+13%), are all on the rise.

What does this mean for restaurant owners who are already feeling the impact of these behavioural shifts? With so many factors pointing to ease and speed, creating digital connections with diners is a must.

Digital Connections Help Diners Find You

Most diners rely on food “near me now” searches when deciding where to eat, which is why there’s a 150% jump in this type of Google search. Today, more Canadian consumers rely on their mobile devices to find what’s nearby. Nearly a quarter will choose where to go based on a “near me” search (22%), according to the Eagle Eye study. That proportion is even higher among millennials (30%).

Having an optimized website is critical for your restaurant to be found in those “near me” and “now” searches.

Whatever results come up when diners are searching for information can either lead them to you or somewhere else. Information about your restaurant – opening times, location, menus, happy hour times – must be current and accurate.

An optimized website is also a critical factor in establishing a digital connection with diners; using a unique customer ID, an email address or a social media account helps achieve that.

Digital Connections Collect Valuable Customer Data

There’s no doubt that meal-kit subscription services have chipped away at traditional restaurants’ profits. Like any eCommerce company, they’re creating digital connections and collect valuable customer data that’s built into the online ordering and payment process. This allows them to understand customers’ preferences and deliver offers that covert. They’re also using data to personalize communications, which increase the likelihood of repeat purchases.

The ability to track when diners visit a location is just as important as establishing a digital connection. You can assign a unique customer ID to each diner and use promotions and coupons to track when offers are issued, and when diners return either online or at a location, to redeem their offer.

Think of how valuable a customer’s email or social media account is – and how much you’re currently missing out by not having a digital connection. In the case of an email, you could send a limited-time coupon for $5 off your top five menu items. When sending the email, the coupon was assigned a unique customer ID. The customer comes to one of your locations with the coupon and because it contains a unique ID, you’re able to attribute the transaction to the individual diner. Now you have information about which items they chose to help personalize future promotions and encourage their return. Without a digital connection, you’re unable to do any of this.

Serve Up a Mobile App that Satisfies Diners’ Cravings

The ability to connect diners’ online and offline interactions is key to understanding their preferences and meeting their expectations. A mobile app is a perfect enabler for this, considering that 86% of Canadians own a smartphone, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

Investment in mobile apps is in fact the highest priority for restaurant owners’ future marketing strategies, according to Eagle Eye research. But they must be designed to deliver convenience and ease of use. This includes “just for me” offers and features that make ordering and paying fast and easy.

Pizza Express, a UK restaurant chain, launched pay-at-table capabilities through its mobile app, which also delivers personalized, location-based offers. Similarly, a leading UK food-to-go chain called Greggs, launched an app with a fully digitized loyalty program that lets customers pay, top-up their rewards balance to use instore, and features unique QR and coupon codes that provide quick and secure redemption and customer data collection. Your diners have come to expect these types of interactions from mobile apps, regardless of whether it’s a retailer or a restaurant app. It’s up to restaurant owners to heed the call.

The path to having a winning restaurant in today’s digital world is really not that different to a decade ago – putting customers first and getting them to come back. What has changed profoundly are the mechanisms through which restaurants can deliver on that; connecting with customers in ways they prefer and offering greater convenience and immediacy – and that’s increasing via digital platforms.

Learn more practical, actionable tips in Omnichannel Retail: How To Build Winning Stores In the Digital World, a book by Eagle Eye CEO Tim Mason.

About the Author

Sean Keith is the Director of New Business Development at Eagle Eye, a leading SaaS technology company that enables businesses to create real-time connections with their customers through digital and mobile promotion solutions. Recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Global Shaper, Sean helps brands in the retail, food & beverage and hospitality industries implement digital transformation initiatives to better understand customer behaviours and drive revenue growth among Canadian businesses.

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