Once upon a time, it was enough for restaurant operators to know their customer’s name, but now, they want to know their customer’s location, the car they drive and the type of food they order.
The constant ringing of the Phone lines at Front of the House (FOH) is a good indicator of the locations performance. Customers prefer to call for placing last minute orders or while they are on the move on their way back from work, or to pre-order it for a particular time pick up or just because it has become a routine to call as they have stored the locations phone number.
While it is still possible to order food by phone and pick it up, the technology has moved on. Customers want to be able to order directly from their phones, so that they can pick up their food quickly. They don’t want to waste time on hold.☎️…..
The world is rapidly moving fast towards digital, contactless interaction, automation to address the staffing challenges the Restaurant industry had to endure over the past several years. The pandemic resulted in huge shifts in how the world shopped, picked their grocery and how it interacted with businesses communities.
Here is our point of view on how the industry is being shaped by technology.
A tale of a phone call to a local Pizza joint
Imagine it is your daughter’s birthday and you want to order Pizza for all the kids who are starting to show up at the doorstep. You have decided it is about time to call the local Pizza joint.
You (😠) : This is the various steps taken to kick off the process.
- Pick up the phone
- Search for the “Local Pizza Joint nearby” on Google.
- Look for the search result.
- Pick up the right Pizza joint location.
- Look for their phone number.
- Click the Phone con.
- Opens the Dialer App and starts automatically dialing
- You hear the ringing sound
Restaurant Front Desk (🍕) : Answers the call with the standard greeting “Thank you for calling local pizza joint, Can I put you on hold for just a moment”
You (😠) : “More frustration”
The employee at the front desk is unable to handle the other ongoing orders, or customers who are at the front desk paying for their order or other dine-in customers. It is already hard for them to juggle between all the tasks demanding attention.
A call that should take just about 3 – 4 minutes, ends up taking 9 minutes because of the “hold time or overflow” of calls.
This narration raises a few questions.
- How many such holds actually result in lost sales opportunity?
- How this act could adversely affect the online reviews customers leave on Yelp / Google Review etc.,?
- How does attending to phone call and answering similar question affect the employee retention for the brand?
- Is there technology solution to address this situation?
We will delve deeper on some of the aspects below.
The restaurant technology infrastructure have a few different foundational technology components – the POS, the Kitchen Display System, the Drive-Thru technology base station, the digital menu board etc., The Phone line usually is information associated with each location shows up on the Google searches, as a key information tied to that location across all digital assets – webpage, app etc.,
But with the changing business landscape, more users using the app, more using the drive thru, there is a shift in the consumer behavior, how they interact with the brand.
Here are two examples of recent headlines by various news outlets:
Restaurants to Customers: Don’t Call Us, We Won’t Call You
When restaurants abandon their phone lines, it can make the lives of employees easier but leave diners confused and frustrated — or relieved.
The New York Times ~ 01/28/2022
The article points out that customer who prefers to call the location ahead of time are frustrated, at the same time, the restaurants themselves are freeing up time to attend to dine-in customer’s needs rather than manning the phone line answering basic questions ~ till what time are you open, do you have any vegetarian options, or can I book a table for 4 at 6 PM on Thursday etc.,
PAPA JOHN’S IS TAKING THE PHONE CALL OUT OF THE RESTAURANT
Restaurant Brands Online – 03/03/2020
You’ll Probably Never Order This Way at Restaurants Again
Embracing online delivery, some places are turning off their land-line
Challenges – With every big change comes opportunity
Although the phone line is still very important channel for the location for taking orders and answers customer questions, there are several reasons for the change in mindset:
- Labor shortage due to migration to gig economy
- High turnover in the Hospitality industry leading to more retraining which is expensive
- On an average one employee at a location is just manning the phone line to answer basic question which adds to the total cost of operation
- Very repetitive, manual and data entry driven job which reduces the overall engagement level
- Employees trying to ask multiple phone lines resulting in long hold times and lost business opportunity
Next generation of Technology
More and more brands are realizing having a phone line at the location requires a person to manage and answer the constantly ringing phone lines. Instead they are opting to have dedicated call center where the calls are all routed at an offshore location and the order is collected and entered by a human to the POS / Order Management system for a specific location for preparing the food. As quoted in the Papa John’s example, the phone number is associated with the physical location, but it is no longer ringing, but instead gets routed via a Cloud infrastructure to an English speaking location offshore, where it is answered and addressed. But since it is still manual, it adds a significant cost to the overall operation.
Brands are going the route of subcontracting this work to vendors which means there is a need for constant retraining and monitoring of the overall performance of these vendor teams for ensuring quality and consistency of customer engagement for upsell.
Even though the Call center does solve the issue in the short term, for a better more longer term solution, it is essential to rethink the whole technical solution to automate the order taking process.
Chatbots that integrate with the restaurants phone line directly are more convenient option – they do not get bored or tired, they can be deployed round the clock, they can manage the front of house virtual assistance for those frequent calls – reservations, store hours etc.,
The phone line is not dead. It is simply evolving into something better. While some restaurants may be hesitant at first, they should jump on board with this change because it can only help them. By being able to provide customers with a more personalized experience and better service, restaurants will have an edge over others who do not adapt to the new model.
At HUEX, we believe the restaurants and their technology landscape needs to change faster to adopt and match to the ever higher expectations from consumers. We believe Cloud hosted automation is the key to address most of the challenges faced by the restaurant locations. We conclude that the phone lines are here to stay, just that they may not ring anymore at the physical location, but instead a chatbot will answer the call received at the location – from a cloud hosted environment.