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Customers are hungry for omnichannel—can your restaurants deliver?

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Customers are hungry for omnichannel—can your restaurants deliver?

Toni Silver - UK&I Head of Travel & Hospitality, Cognizant

Toni Silver | LinkedIn

Seamless omnichannel ordering is the future of quick-service restaurants. What’s needed to deliver it successfully at scale?

Hospitality is going through a digital transformation of historic proportions. Anyone who’s eaten at a quick-service restaurant in the last few years will have seen it for themselves.

From the largest multinational chains to the smallest independent outlets, restaurants everywhere are rapidly switching to omnichannel digital ordering. And that’s radically changing the way food is ordered, paid for, prepared and delivered — as well as how restaurants are run and serve their customers.

Why is omnichannel such a powerful growth driver?

First and foremost, it’s about serving customers in a way that suits them. Because today’s customers want to order whatever food they like, whenever they like, from wherever they like, in whatever way they like. And they have an ever-growing number of channels for doing so.

It might be a proprietary website or app managed by a restaurant chain. It could be an aggregator platform like Just Eat or Deliveroo. It might be a QR-code enabled table or a digital kiosk inside the restaurant itself. Or it could even be through a messaging platform like WhatsApp or a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Home.

These consumer expectations were supercharged by Covid lockdowns, when demand for omnichannel restaurant experiences exploded. The effect was to bring the future digital restaurant forward by several years.

For example, Cognizant’s OrderServ​, a flexible cloud-native platform that helps restaurants integrate and manage omnichannel experiences, now processes six million transactions every day. That’s twice as many as it did before the pandemic.

A win-win

But omnichannel isn’t just about customer needs. It delivers for the business too. Operationally, it reduces costs and increases order accuracy. And it can massively increase customer reach.

Third-party delivery platforms in particular can open up local restaurants to a vastly larger consumer base almost overnight. And this can prompt a shift in both business and operating model towards cloud/ghost kitchens, taking a restaurant into a new kind of “manufacturing at scale” approach.

Then consider the fact that, compared with ordering at the counter, in-restaurant self-service kiosks have been shown to increase sales revenues, enhance order customisation and speed up queue times significantly. McDonald’s, for example, reported ​that its restaurants experienced a 5 to 6 per cent lift in sales in the first year after the addition of self-service kiosks.

Similar effects have been shown for at-table ordering. When Chilli’s introduced self-service tablet ordering at its tables, it saw a 20 per cent increase​ in dessert sales. So it’s no surprise that some restaurants are even choosing to go digital-only. In India and South Africa, in particular, we see restaurants increasingly removing the option of ordering via the counter and switching to 100 per cent digital channels.

And what about the impact on customer loyalty? An integrated omnichannel strategy can bring a significant boost here too. Because app-based ordering can provide unprecedented amounts of data on individual customer preferences and behaviours—and how they change over time. That opens up the possibility of hyper-personalized offers and promotions.

The complexity conundrum

So what’s the catch? For all the benefits, the explosion in digital channels, touchpoints, and ways to pay undoubtedly makes omnichannel a more complex undertaking than traditional restaurant service.

Added to this is the relentless pace of technology change. The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and new channels and payment concepts are continuously being introduced. Consider that, just a few years ago, the idea of paying for a meal with your watch would have seemed absurd. Now it’s entirely normal.

This complexity is unavoidable. It’s simply the reality of doing business today. Any restaurant serious about delivering seamless omnichannel experiences at scale must find ways of managing that complexity holistically, and with agility, while delivering consistently across multiple channels.

The risk of standing still, particularly for smaller restaurant chains, is that complexity breeds inefficiency. Think about orders through third-party aggregators for example. Smaller restaurants often end up asking front-of-house employees to transfer these orders into the point-of-sale system by manually keying them in. That’s not only a recipe for human error, it’s also a big hit to employee productivity.

One platform to rule them all

The solution? One highly effective strategy is to introduce a cloud-based platform that can seamlessly integrate every part of the business with omnichannel services.

Ideally, this should include not only point-of-sale systems, but also kitchen display systems, master data management, payments services, loyalty programmes, contact centres, social media engagement and all other relevant enterprise applications. In this way, a restaurant can combine its ordering systems and processing with everything from managing the kitchens to tracking sales and transactions in the backend.

What’s more, an end-to-end platform can future-proof a company against inevitable change in the business and technology landscape. It means new restaurants can be onboarded quickly, and new digital channels and ways to pay introduced as soon as they hit the market.

The fact is, technology plays an increasingly critical role in every hospitality business. And having solutions with MACH (microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native, and headless) architecture is increasingly important in providing the necessary agility to meet changing business needs.

Delivering real business benefits, fast

When omnichannel ordering is integrated end to end and combined with customer analytics, the boost to diner experience and business performance can be profound. Look, for instance, at the way Papa John’s​ transformed its operational efficiency and improved customer service by automating its ordering processes with an end-to-end cloud-based omnichannel solution.

The company’s intelligent platform – PapaCall – ensures front-line employees can focus their time on serving guests more effectively. Not only that, but it even uses advanced analytics to provide hyper-personalized menu suggestions for individual customers based on their past preferences.

The impact? Papa John’s saw a 15 per cent increase in revenue per order and a 95 per cent CSAT score for services delivered with the new ordering solution.

Are you ready for the omnichannel future?

As quick-service restaurants continue their recovery from pandemic disruption, adapting to changing customer desires and expectations will be essential. So will driving up operational efficiency and restaurant profitability.

What’s really exciting about an integrated omnichannel strategy is that it delivers against both these objectives. It’s why end-to-end digital platforms delivering seamless omnichannel experiences are the base ingredient of the future quick-service restaurant. It’s time to get cooking.