From Phone To Fork: Why The Restaurant Industry Is Equipped To Rapidly Adapt To A Remote World In this digital era, restaurants have a unique opportunity to be omni-present, driving footfall and dine-in customers, while scaling deliveries for those who prefer to eat at home. This means restaurants need to engage with customers on the platforms that matter, leveraging content that creates personalized experiences.

By Anna Germanos

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Across the Arab world, food –whether it's dining out, ordering in, a taste for local or international cuisines– dominates conversations every day. However, today, with the rise of mobile devices and social networks, food conversations are not just limited to the dining table. In fact, the smartphone has evolved into a cornerstone of dining experiences, with restaurants and consumers alike accelerating their presence in the digital sphere. This has become even more relevant with the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, where restrictions on business and public movement has meant the physical presence of customers at restaurants is limited.

Re-defining convenience and speed

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people, while it took TV 13 years to do so. Mobile, however, was able to reach 2 billion people across the globe in only 10 years' time. With a "menu" available on every smartphone, the confluence of technology and dining preferences has meant that people are putting phones before forks– discovering, researching, photographing, and even sharing their food before they decide and dig in.

For instance, people come to Instagram to follow the things they love and to be inspired. When it comes to food, people follow their favorite hashtags, chefs, and cooking accounts to inspire their next meal. In the times of COVID-19, food-related content on Instagram has skyrocketed driven by people's willingness to stay and cook at home.

It doesn't stop there. Phones are an essential part of the journey after the dining experience as well. People now make sure they leave a review on either Facebook and Instagram, on the online delivery application, or on the restaurant's own application, accurately and thoroughly describing their experience from start to finish.

This has led to restaurants building their operating model around technology to not only drive customer acquisition, but also create an unparalleled ecosystem of trust where they can talk directly to their audience. This customer-centric philosophy has elevated the focus on convenience to deliver unique experiences to customers.

Related: CovHack Virtual Innovation Challenge Welcomes Concepts For The Future Of Food

Technology is driving the transformation of business models

Just as the restaurant and food industry have coupled from the traditional dine-in experience to drive-thru once before, this industry has increasingly witnessed a multitude of trends over the past few years. Large restaurant chains are cutting down on physical space as diners prefer ordering in. This has also led to the emergence of cloud kitchens, which are able to scale up and down as required but with an operating model that is embedded in technology. In fact, the $35 billion food delivery economy is expected to grow tenfold to $365 billion by 2030.

Businesses still operating traditional dine-in models are using technology not just for deliveries, but also to acquire customers. With mobile based solutions, restaurateurs are scaling their businesses by driving customer engagement in multiple ways, whether it's to pre-order a meal, schedule a self-pick-up or reserve a table.

Supplementing this technology-led experience is the rise of digital wallets, unlocking additional convenience for customers. As apps become more and more ubiquitous, people are becoming increasingly comfortable using them to purchase. So much so that today's diner expects brands to offer a seamless app experience. According to e-marketer, nearly 40% paid for a fast food or fast casual meal via a mobile app or digital wallet. These forms of contactless payments are gaining more importance in times of COVID-19 crisis, with increased customer awareness about precautions. In fact, contactless delivery and payment are emerging among the top attributes desired by online platforms. Moving away from cash affects unbanked citizens disproportionately, as such now is the time for restaurants to leverage technology and partnerships to design setups and innovative contactless payment solutions (such as carrier billing, vouchering etc.) to reach all customers irrespective of finances and education.

In this digital era, restaurants have a unique opportunity to be omni-present, driving footfall and dine-in customers, while scaling deliveries for those who prefer to eat at home. This means restaurants need to engage with customers on the platforms that matter, leveraging content that creates personalized experiences.

Related: Bidfood Middle East Launches A Home Delivery App To Recreate Restaurant Experiences At Home

Customers want to be engaged in ways that matters to them

Most successful restaurants today create omni-channel experiences powered by value, taste and convenience, and have built loyal communities of customers who advocate for them online. In knowing their customers and understanding their needs, these restaurants are able to create unique experiences tailored precisely for specific audiences.

With data as the backbone for people-based marketing, markets are able to leverage platforms like Facebook and Instagram, easily connecting with the world's largest food community to increase awareness, drive consideration, and increase loyalty for their food experiences. Utilizing the restaurants own customer data along with advertising on Facebook and Instagram allows restaurants to directly target people based on demographics, interests, behaviors, location, and connections to raise awareness and boost mobile app downloads, sales and offer redemptions.

For instance, in 2018, the fast food giant McDonald's was able to boost downloads for its World Cup offers app by 140% with Facebook mobile app install ads. The restaurant launched a campaign promoting daily discounts that were available exclusively through its official app, with communications targeted to people who had previously purchased or interacted with the brand. This resulted in McDonald's achieving a 230% increase in offer redemptions through their app, a 190% increase in incremental sales, and a total of 820,000 discount redemptions.

Through tailored communications based on customer behavior and interests, the brand was able to ensure its messages resonated with audiences in a meaningful way.

Shaping brand recall and social distancing through creative experiences

In a world where consumers are regularly engaging with brands, it is imperative that restaurants stand out with their communications.

The world's most popular fast-food chicken restaurant chain, KFC, for example, used Facebook to drive messages around customer safety and contactless delivery. With the outbreak of COVID-19, KFC also realized that it was imperative to move fast and reassure employees and consumers of their safety. KFC launched a new contactless delivery service to cater to emerging social distancing practices and ensured consumers felt comfortable while ordering.

Customers placing orders received a heartfelt message urging them to stay home and stay safe, with KFC's free delivery available for them, until the brand was ready to open doors to their restaurants again.

Leveraging Facebook's dynamic ads, the brand was able to personalize their creatives based on customer's interest and profile– giving consumers a truly one-to-one experience. These ads were delivered to people based on their behavior on our website, and improved efficiency of KFC's e-commerce performance by decreasing marketing cost per order by 88%.

The restaurant industry was one of the early adopters of technology to enable customer experiences. As the impact of online, especially mobile increases, the dividing line between digital and physical worlds will blur even faster, making it business-critical to create measurable mobile friendly engagements.

Today as we stand on the cusp of change, the industry's affinity for innovation will help it create a new benchmark for personalised customer experiences in the Middle East, underpinned by an audience base which thrives on mobile-first engagement.

Related: Support The UAE's F&B Sector Hit By The COVID-19 Crisis: A Call For Delivery Apps To Cap Their Commissions At 10%

Anna Germanos

Head of CPG, Retail, and E-Commerce, Facebook (Middle East and North Africa)

Anna Germanos is a seasoned thought leader in digital transformation in the consumer goods and retail sectors. She enjoys deep expertise in consumer and retail in the Middle East, having worked more than 12 years in this space for the largest global technology conglomerates, as well as in the management consulting field. She has strong knowledge of the media, tech and e-commerce ecosystem in the MENA region, having managed multi-million portfolio of consumer packaged goods, healthcare, luxury, retail, and e-commerce multinational and regional clients and agencies. She also built thought leadership across multiple digital advertising topics for the sector.

Currently, Anna is the Head of Consumer Packaged Goods, Retail, and E-Commerce at the social media giant Facebook. Prior to joining Facebook, she was heading the Consumer Goods practice at Google for MENA driving data-driven digital transformation and tech solutions adoption. Earlier, Anna spent many years in the Consumer and Retail practice at Booz & Company (currently known as Strategy&) where she led assignments for leading private and public clients in the Middle East and Africa across consumer and retail, primarily focusing on topics such as growth strategy articulation, investment strategies, operational excellence, sector development and others.

Anna started her career in fintech at Murex SA in France, a leading provider of software solutions for capital markets, where she managed design and implementation of financial software projects for leading banks and financial institutions in Europe, US, and APAC. Anna is passionate about community development focusing on education and diversity and inclusion at large. She believes that the essential underpinning of any civilization is the education of its youth and the power of education to advance one’s well-being and help the community. As such, she sits on the advisory board of Lead Early, a company with a mission to empower teenagers with the skills and experiences to make the most appropriate choices for their unique selves.

Anna also leads a number of community outreach and D&I initiatives working closely with NGOs and government programs to make an impact and improve lives. She currently acts as the People lead at Facebook. She also has a yearning for the Lebanese mountains, preserving sections of the Lebanese Mountain Trail (LMT), and together with her family, promoting rural and agritourism development in Lebanon.

Anna holds an MBA from INSEAD and a bachelor of Engineering from the American University of Beirut with distinction.

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