Amidst the COVD-19 pandemic, fast-casual restaurants were forced to adapt to new technologies to meet the changing dynamics of the hospitality and restaurant industry. Innovative solutions were introduced to help these businesses continue operations via takeout and delivery while ensuring customer health and safety.
Among these solutions were digital menus, a technology that allows each customer to view a menu via a QR code to their smartphone or view the menu on digital signage. Many customers were excited about the new technology, and their positive response indicates that digital menus will remain an attribute to fast-casual operations.
Benefits of Digital Menus
For some restaurants, investing in digital menu software and related tools is an easy choice, but not all restaurants are the same. Although some may be hesitant to make the initial investment, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Here are some of the benefits of using digital menus and other technologies:
- Reduces Spread of Germs
During the pandemic, contactless service was critical for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Although restaurants initially moved to digital menus to accommodate online orders, many have continued using them inside their establishments because they’re safer.
Paper and laminated menus are among the biggest germ spreaders, so utilizing digital menu software makes sense. This tool allows customers to safely order and pay for food without coming into contact with restaurant staff. They can simply use their smartphone to take a picture of a QR code and control the ordering process from their table.
- Supports Sustainability
Digital menus also support sustainability by reducing a restaurant’s carbon footprint. Thousands of pounds of paper are wasted every day on hard-copy menus. Ink usage is a significant contributor to ground soil and water pollution, and cartridges take centuries to decompose in landfills. Restaurants can do their part to prevent this waste by using digital menus.
By adopting a digital menu, restaurants can also increase customer satisfaction. Today’s restaurant-goers seek out establishments committed to helping the environment and are willing to pay extra for green-restaurant practices. They’re also willing to share their positive experience on social media, which can enhance a restaurant’s reputation.
- Streamlines Processes
Going digital also benefits restaurants by streamlining operations. When combined with tabletop tablets, digital menu software makes ordering and payment more convenient. Allowing customers to order and pay for themselves frees staff to focus on other aspects of service. Additionally, orders are more accurate because they go directly to the kitchen, and tables turn over faster because customers can check out when they’re ready.
The process of updating digital menus is also simpler. Affordable templates make it easy for restaurants to create digital menus, and changes can be made in real-time at no additional cost. Digital menu boards can be preset and scheduled to display content as appropriate – with minimal human interaction.
- Increases Sales through Visualization
One of the most significant benefits of going digital is the ability to grab customers’ attention. When it comes to food, a visual is worth a thousand words. Research shows that “the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and often creates an emotional or sensory connection to an image that is immediate.” Digital menu boards garner more attention by displaying mouth-watering images.
Visualization also makes upselling easier. When ordering from a digital menu, customers are prompted with images of additional items to consider. Instead of wait staff asking if they’d like a beverage, side, or dessert to go with their meal, digital menus automatically suggest complementary items to round out the dining experience.
- Reduces Costs and Increases Revenue
Restaurants that continue relying on traditional menus will always have recurring costs to factor into their budget for creating/updating, printing, and shipping hard copies. With a one-time investment in digital menu software, restaurants can avoid these recurring expenses.
They can further reduce costs and increase revenue by adjusting menu offerings to meet inventory demand. They can use digital menu boards to promote items that need to be cleared out and remove items that are no longer in stock. They can also promote upselling opportunities by nudging customers toward more profitable items and triggering impulse buys.
Technology that Powers Digital Menus
All these benefits can be realized through the effective use of technology. Here are some of the tools developed by companies such as Ombori Grid that can help restaurants transition to digital menus.
- Digital Signage
In addition to placing menus online, many restaurants have turned to dynamic digital signage to display menus within their establishments. Digital signage is exactly what it sounds like – signage displayed on a digital screen. Content is fed to the screen from a media player driven by cloud-based technology that selects what content to use and how to display it.
Digital menu boards can enhance customer experience by displaying images of highly appealing food and beverages. Because customers are drawn to these images, they’re more likely to purchase them. In addition, digital menu boards have room to include nutritional information and allergy advice, which appeals to health-conscious customers.
- Self-Order Kiosks
When combined with digital signage, self-order kiosks further improve customer experience. Kiosks, like those developed by Ombori, generally consist of a touchscreen-equipped with an easy-to-use digital interface. The screen displays the restaurant’s menu and guides the customer through the ordering process. As the customer builds an order, the kiosk suggests menu modifiers, add-ons, and special promotions.
Customers benefit from self-order kiosks in multiple ways – they enjoy reduced wait times, improved order accuracy, greater control over the ordering process, and reduced interaction with restaurant staff. Kiosks are also beneficial for restaurants, allowing them to save money on labor, keep staff safe, and increase check size – research shows that customers tend to order 20% more from a kiosk than wait staff.
- Queue Management Systems
As restaurants reopen, they’re not only retaining the use of digital menus but also relying on queue management systems to ensure customer safety. This tool allows restaurants to monitor the number of people on the premises, which is vital as the pandemic continues to recede. People counters and occupancy control tools allow establishments to ensure proper social distancing.
In addition to feeling more secure, customers feel valued when restaurants use the data gathered by queue management systems. This information allows restaurants to be more transparent about wait times.
Although customers expect to wait when restaurants are busy, they’re often frustrated by the lack of transparency. Queue management systems allow restaurants to provide a more accurate picture of how long the wait will be.
- Booking Software
Booking software can further enhance customer experience by allowing people to schedule reservations online and check-in prior to visiting. Traditionally, customers made reservations over the phone, working with staff to select a date and time. If customers needed to make changes, they had to start the process all over again. Thanks to booking software, people can make and adjust reservations independently.
Amazingly, the combination of digital menus, self-order kiosks, and booking software means today’s customers can enjoy a dining experience free of all interaction with restaurant staff. After making a reservation online, they can access the menu using a QR code on their smart device and order and pay via a tablet-based kiosk at their table.
- Virtual Queuing
Likewise, virtual queueing can prevent customers from coming into close contact with one another in a designated waiting area. Ombori’s “virtual queuing solution enables customers to book a table, either online or at the restaurant. It tells them the expected wait [time] and notifies them when their table is free.” Meanwhile, they can choose where to wait – they don’t have to remain on the premises.
In addition to supporting social distancing, virtual queueing reduces perceived wait time. Because customers can spend their time how they want – exploring the neighborhood, having a drink at the bar, or running a quick errand – the wait can feel shorter than it actually is.
Digital Menus Improve Customer Experience
Digital menus and supporting technology can benefit customers, staff, and restaurant owners. For customers, these tools streamline the ordering and payment process and ensure their safety by limiting physical interaction with staff. For servers, digital menus remove the need to explain options, upsell additions, and accept payment, which frees them to focus on other aspects of customer service. Finally, digital menus help restaurant owners cut costs and increase profits.
At its best, technology makes people’s lives simpler, and it is doing just that in the fast-casual sector. While the pandemic forced businesses to adopt new tools such as digital menus, the increased customer satisfaction and reduced expenses that came with those changes reveal something important: the pressures of the pandemic did not create unnecessary innovation. Instead, it accelerated restaurants toward solutions that better serve customers, staff, and owners.