The pandemic has meant that perfecting off-premise operations is now critical for franchise brands.
Today, optimizing restaurants for off-premise sales has never been more important. As a franchise owner, I understand how this evolving industry has met many challenges first-hand. With the outbreak of COVID-19, dining room capacity, which typically contributes to a steady income, is extremely limited. Curbside pick-up and delivery services, which not every restaurant offered initially, are now key for survival, and customers’ dining behaviors have changed drastically.
Plus, many who preferred a sit- down meal with family and friends are now opting for a “contactless and/or frictionless experience”, meaning limited interaction with restaurant staff. While this may seem impersonal, a contactless and frictionless off-premise dining experience ensures guest safety and overall convenience.
To succeed in these areas, restaurant owners need to create a seamless customer experience. Operational procedures that invite excessive contact between customer and employee are no longer wanted by many customers. So, how do you make sure the processes you have in place for off-premise operations are as “frictionless” as possible?
Three pillars must be perfected for an ideal customer experience: order taking, facility modifications and pickup, curbside or delivery experience. My 30-plus years of experience in the franchising and hospitality industry, backed by trial and error along the way, have shown that these tools can truly bring what I like to call “off-premise domination”.
Master the art of accurate and frictionless order taking
At the core of successful order-taking is digital ordering. But, how will customers know that these tools are available? The first step is to promote, promote, promote. Social media, in-store marketing materials, digital ads and using your own website are great channels for communicating to customers that frictionless ordering is just a click away. Pairing these promotions with diner rewards are a great way to thank them for interacting with you directly, rather than using a third-party delivery site.
Another step to assert your own delivery capability is by removing third party site logos from your website, menus and even logos from your building. Again, consistent messaging will help the information stick. The more you can own your off-premise sales, the less you have to pay in pricey third-party fees – and you own the customer data. So, make the message stick to clearly state that your business is equipped to handle delivery.
For guests who are not ordering via the app or your website, the phone is now an opportunity to deliver a great experience and build sales. Setting up an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system (otherwise known as a ‘phone tree’) can help weed out non-order calls to cut down on call volume and will help save you and your team time, allowing for great service and selling.
“The more you can own your off-premise sales, the less you have to pay in pricey third-party fees – and you own the customer data”
In addition, menu simplification and family package meal deals can make the call easier and build sales (and help operations produce more food quickly!). Training your employees how to effectively promote these offers will increase option awareness and ultimately benefit the business. Combining phone training and menu changes – while marketing and promoting digital orders – will start the frictionless process and build trust with your customers.
Modify facility to ensure frictionless pickup
For frictionless pick-up optimization, slight changes to layout and procedures can make a huge difference. The first focus area is creating a pickup shelving area or lockers so guests can pick-up their food without any employee interaction. Ensuring 100 per cent accuracy and using tamper-evident packaging is critical to build trust with the guest. You cannot afford to miss any item in the order as the packages should be sealed with tamper-evident tape.
Next, for locations with parking lot access, curbside pick-up modifications (for instance, keeping select spots open for pick-up) and providing signage for drivers also eases customer experience, while minimizing their interaction with staff. Additional tools to enhance a frictionless pickup experience are curbside geo-fencing and text- notification systems along with in-car commerce. These additions can help your team be aware that the customer is ready and waiting for their order.
Finally, in the kitchen, if possible, create a separate food production area for to-go orders to streamline the process and reduce the time from cooking to meal transfer. If space is limited, reconfigure the line so to-go packaging is easily accessible to not slow down operations.
Perfecting the pick-up, curbside and delivery service
Once operational procedures are in order, better pick-up, curbside and delivery activities can occur. For pick-up and curbside, make sure that the food staging areas are completely contactless for easy food retrieval by the customer. If they must come in contact with staff, it is imperative that social distancing of six feet or more be practiced. For curbside, designating and marking specific parking spaces for this purpose eases the speed of food transfer and helps employees know where they need to go. As mentioned above, geo-fencing software will help you and your team know when and where customers are at your location ready for pick-up.
Now for delivery, many of these same COVID-19 protocols still apply. I recommend that all equipment and packaging used to deliver be wiped down consistently, creating a sanitary experience for the customer. In today’s world, all drivers must wear masks, gloves and adhere to social distancing when in contact with the customer. Lastly, ensuring that all packaging and transport boxes are secured and tamper-evident sealed before reaching the customer are great ways to visibly show that safety is integrated to every step of your restaurant’s operations.
Now go dominate off-premise sales
Once you have nailed order taking, operations and pick-up, curbside and delivery services, you are on your way to making the frictionless customer experience a reality. As a bonus to offer customers more ways to order, promote your delivery services in all off-premise orders. Tell the customer how they can order on the restaurant website, so you don’t have to pay additional costly third-party app delivery fees. By optimizing these systematic processes, you can build consumer trust.
This simple bond is the most important currency in the world today.
TJ Schier is co-founder of Off-Premise Domination, which he started with Sam Stanovich in the wake of the pandemic to help restaurant owners learn how to adapt and succeed. He is also a noted hospitality speaker and trainer and has owned and operated 17 Which Wich franchise locations and written five books on restaurant innovation tactics.