Connecting restaurants for fun and profit

The need for the IoQSRT

Mobile’s influence over dining is undeniable: a quarter of consumers say tech features in their decision to visit a restaurant, 31% view menus on their phones at least once a month, and 33% of millennials expect to pay via phone. With more restaurants recognizing the importance of mobile, it’s become obvious that it will take more than mobile payments alone to engage customers. Footfall is decreasing: annual visits for consumers aged 25–49 have dropped by 44 per person over the last three years. So the real issue for QSRs and Fast Casual restaurants is not getting customers to pay once in store; it’s building a loyal customer base that makes regular, and preferably frequent, repeat visits.

The personalization opportunity

Quick service and fast casual restaurants have a massive opportunity to use mobile and connected devices to learn more about their customers, and to leverage this detailed data to personalize the customer experience. Individual journeys can be mapped for every customer, so offers and rewards are uniquely relevant and available at just the right time to entice customers into store. And because you’re already collecting transaction data, to achieve this level of personalization you just need to add on some real time information — like time of day and weather conditions. The best source for that data? Your customers’ mobile phones.

Your customers and their smartphones

Think of the smartphone as the center of the IoT for your brand; its omnipresence gives marketers the data they need to personalize and promote in real-time. And most consumers realize this, which is why more and more are open to downloading apps for better experiences.

In QSRs the convenience of mobile ordering — and the ability to integrate with other connected and customer-oriented tech is already paying off — a BlueRocket study found that mobile app customers order 35% more often than people who use mobile websites, and Delaget found that mobile orders are typically higher spend than in-store orders. But why stop at ordering when you can extend the service to mobile payment, proximity-triggered prep and pickup alerts, personalized offers and rewards? The key is customer convenience: making the experience as frictionless and rewarding as possible. Customers are already using this tech after all…

Loyalty, reinvented

There’s a natural fit between mobile ordering and loyalty — you don’t really need to look much further than Starbucks for proof. Starbucks’ mobile app not only offers customers the ability to order ahead and skip queues (and presumably have their name called correctly), they can also pay with the card registered in the app. And with the massively popular My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program integrated into Mobile Order and Pay, customers can earn points and rewards not just from Starbucks itself, but from a range of partners including Spotify, The NY Times and ride-sharing up-and-comer Lyft.

While smaller brands may not have quite that much clout, there’s no doubt that mobile loyalty has the edge over a wallet full of half-punched cards when it comes to both user engagement and generating data for business decision making. Knowing what your customer likes, predicting visits, pre-filling orders and randomly surprising them with personalized freebies and discounts goes a long way to creating engagement (and repeat visits).

Starting is simple

Start with what you’ve got and build on where you need to. Contactless card payment is now commonplace, and while tap-and-go mobile payments aren’t quite as common, services like Google Wallet and Apple Pay are boosting the profile of NFC smartphone payments in most sectors. The good news is that NFC-enabled add-ons to existing PoS can be found relatively cheaply for brands that don’t want to (or can’t afford to) completely replace existing systems — and low cost alternatives like Square’s Reader are fast becoming mainstream.

Beyond the obvious payment streamlining though, NFC technology (often in combination with RFID tags) enables brands to make aspects of the ordering and dining experiences more user friendly — by automating check-ins, reward and offer redemptions and social sharing for instance.

The rise of proximity tech

It’s cool to let brands know where you are and what you’re doing

Beacons are a typical first addon tech to the IoQSRT buildout. These are Bluetooth(LE) transmitters that Bluetooth-enabled phones can interact with when in range. They have obvious utility: delivering on the spot rewards for check-ins and orders, reporting on wait time, managing queues and promoting offers. Data from in-store beacons can also be used to show dwell time; indicating a preference for dine-in vs take-out and providing yet more opportunity for personalization and up-sell.

One of the cooler uses of beacon technology in QSRs and other restaurants though is not just reporting behavior, but measuring behavior change.

Combining beacon with app and PoS data, brands can uncover which customers visit at different parts of the day or week, then target offers accordingly and see how redeeming an offer changes behavior compared to a control group. It could become obvious that non-breakfast eaters who redeemed a breakfast offer now come in for breakfast more often than people who didn’t redeem — easily proving the effectiveness of that marketing campaign.

The use of geofences extends the idea of beacons beyond the store and into the outside world.

These are are virtual perimeters that trigger a response when crossed — like the more commonly used zip codes and Designated Marketing Areas, but geofences can be a matter of feet instead of miles. Your own stores can be fenced so you know when customers are approaching (and fire their order ready for service when they reach the counter), or you can set up a geofence around the competition (so you know when you need to send a push message bringing customers back to yours). This geo-conquesting is essentially the mobile equivalent of bidding on a competitor’s name on Adwords, and it can pay off: a Verve study found people served ads around a competing outlet were 3.1 times more likely to go to the advertiser’s restaurant and 18% less likely to patronize the competitor’s.

Blurring the QSR-Fast Casual line

QSRs including McDonald’s are experimenting with table service and possibly moving closer to a Fast Casual offering in the process; order via kiosk (or at the counter, if you insist), take a tag and have your meal delivered to the table. Streamlining the order process is always a good time, but what if we can take it a step further? We could use the RFID chip in the tag to not only report which table a customer’s seated at, but enhance the dining experience — by promoting the mobile loyalty program, encouraging an app download, or giving access to the store WiFi.

70% of diners prefer restaurants with WiFi

Encouraging customers to log in to an outlet’s WiFi both enhances the customer experience and helps collect data that’s going to prove useful for personalization down the track. If customers are logging to check out a new menu item or unlock a check-in achievement (in exchange for giving you access to their information, naturally) you get more data to flesh out that all-important customer profile, as well as a more open channel for pushing further promotional content –the new promo video or the latest in gamified loyalty.

Customizing menus in the moment with dynamic displays

For QSRs with drive-thrus particularly, digital displays add a lot to the ordering process: making it easy to promote best sellers and day-part menu options, increasing ordering speed and accuracy — blessedly making static speakers a thing of the past — decreasing frustration and increasing upsell opportunities. Just stopped in for a burger? How about upgrading to a meal for just $1 more? And would you like a dessert with that? Or if the day’s cold and miserable, it’s a matter of minutes to push a coffee-and-pie add-on to capture additional business.

But beyond the ease of updating Digital Menu Boards (not to mention the cost savings), digital displays can be programmed to detect a known mobile device coming into range, or (see below) to display content according to data received from a connected camera. So menus and offers displayed can be made more relevant to not only time of day and weather in the area, but to specific customers for even better results.

Put control of the dining experience in your customers’ hands

Kiosks and touchscreen tech allows customers to place and pay for their own orders, generally increasing order value, and minimizing — while not eliminating — the need for staff to be involved in the ordering process. At this stage the technology is still relatively new, and because we’re nowhere near saturation customers haven’t yet had a chance to become jaded. In fact some of the proposed uses of touchscreens are just plain cool, and could be enough of a drawcard to get people in the door.

The introduction of touchscreen ordering at the table is already paying off: Chilis experienced a 20% increase in dessert orders once its tablets were installed. The freedom to over-order without being judged aside, there are other benefits to connecting tablets and tables to your IoQSRT. It’s easier to include more information about items on the menu — including potential allergens and ingredient provenance, it’s easy to build in social sharing and check-ins, and loyalty stamps and rewards can be updated and applied automatically for members. And there’s no queuing, no servers returning to table for the 3rd time, no worn menus, no out of date pricing, misheard orders or ‘product unavailable at this location’, leading to a general lift in the customer experience.

Because ordering and payment are integrated, the sales process is streamlined and efficiencies are introduced as less intervention is required at each stage of the ordering process. Plus, as in Chili’s case above, table-top screens can be programmed to strategically upsell — showing customers desserts while they’re eating their mains, and making it easier to add to meals in progress.

Which all means more people in store, having fun, buying more, and happily building out your database. By connecting these touch-ordering technologies to your IoT you increase your ability to personalize: send a push message inviting people in to trial the technology; add loyalty points for the following check-in and order; and send them an offer for the next visit based on what they looked at or ordered this time around.

The QSR experience of the future is a little sci-fi, a lot awesome

As tech becomes more advanced, we can start to personalize experiences in really cool ways. Plexure CTO David Inggs recently demonstrated the personalization capability of connected cameras; using facial recognition to demographically profile customers as they approach the counter and using that profile to display products they’re most likely to buy (based on some sophisticated and heavy duty data crunching behind the scenes).

As more data enters the system, profiles become more precise and purchase intent more precisely modeled — and for known customers we can get very precise indeed, as we have a wider range of data from their devices and interactions. The upshot is customers see relevant products (with an element of upsell, and no cannibalization necessary) and are more likely to take up the offer. And if you’re really keen on the technology, payment verification via FR is also being tested in some markets, though the jury’s still out on whether that’s cool or perhaps a little bit creepy…

Further reading