Food For Thought: Restaurants Go Digital To Survive and Thrive Even after many months of pandemic, as things slowly get back to normal, consumers are increasingly conscious about health and safety. All of these trends are forcing restaurants to go digital in almost every aspect of their business

By Beerud Sheth

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The pandemic disrupted businesses all over the world. Some businesses, especially online tools or cloud-based, saw their usage grow. However, offline businesses, such as restaurants, retailers, salons etc. saw a massive decline in customers and transactions. These businesses were forced to rapidly adapt and transform their business in order to survive.

Restaurants bore the brunt of the lockdown. Consumers were too afraid to dine-in. Instead of coming into restaurants, customers started ordering online for home delivery. Even after many months, as things slowly get back to normal, consumers are increasingly conscious about health and safety. All of these trends are forcing restaurants to go digital in almost every aspect of their business.

As they think through their digital options, let's start with one technology that will not work well for restaurants: mobile app. Even though there are millions of apps, most consumers do not download more than a few dozen. Rarely will that list include a restaurant app. Therefore, restaurants need to explore other options.

There are two new digital technologies available for restaurants to automate the ordering process.

The first technology is progressive Web apps (PWA). PWAs are Web-based experiences that appear like a mobile app, but require no user download. A PWA built for restaurants would display a menu and enable the user to select items, place an order and make a payment. Users would scan a QR code or click an online link to open the PWA.

The second technology that restaurants can use is messaging. In this case, users can place their orders through SMS or WhatsApp. The restaurant can make their menu available through messaging apps that enable the user to order and pay. It is possible for restaurants to use both technologies together to drive even better results. For example, the restaurant can run marketing campaigns with daily specials to their regular customers through SMS and WhatsApp with messages that include links to the PWA.

However, it's not enough to digitize just the ordering process. There are many drivers of a restaurant's success besides just the ordering and delivering of food. Successful restaurants build a strong relationship with their customers. When a visitor comes in to the restaurant, the server typically engages the customer in a conversation covering the history of the restaurant, what's unique about it, the today's specials, personalized recommendations based on individual preferences and more. Only after a relationship is established does the ordering and fulfillment take place. Is it possible to digitize the customer engagement process as well?

Yes, certainly. The way to digitize customer engagement is using conversational experiences, which simulate human chat. Users can simply engage in a conversation with the restaurant, just like they would chat with a friend. In this conversation, the restaurant can make available additional information like history, specials, personal recommendations, loyalty program, recipes and more. This conversational experience can be made available through WhatsApp, SMS or a PWA.

Another important factor for these tools is that they must interconnect with existing point-of-sale (POS) systems currently being used by the restaurant. It is preferable for the restaurant to manage all incoming orders from one common dashboard.

Using and deploying the above technologies is a lot easier than it sounds. Restaurants that have started using new tools have seen their business bounce back. In some cases, their business is even higher than before due to the increased efficiency of ordering and payment. These restaurants have converted adversity into opportunity by adapting quickly.

Going digital helps restaurants not just survive, but also thrive. Now that's some real food for thought.

Beerud Sheth

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Gupshup

Beerud is responsible for the overall strategy, execution and growth of Gupshup. He also founded Elance, the world‘s largest online services marketplace and has also played various leadership roles at different stages of the company’s growth.

Prior to founding Elance, he worked in the financial services industry – modeling, structuring, and trading fixed income securities and derivatives at Merrill Lynch and before that at Citicorp Securities. His graduate research, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, involved developing autonomous learning software agents for personalized news filtering.

Beerud earned an M.S. in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology & a B.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Bombay, where he was awarded the Institute Silver Medal. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and is a holder of 2 technology patents.

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