The restaurant and hospitality industries make up just one of the economic sectors that have been transformed by technology. Technological tools that started as a way to streamline business operations, boost revenue, and draw in customers have evolved.
Now, it is clear that when businesses leverage new technology and an omnichannel approach to the customer experience, there are myriad benefits not just for customers, but for every level of service staff within the industry. Here's a glimpse into technologies that are changing the game.
Queue Management Apps
Queue management systems refer to a variety of digital software options that keep lines short and reduce perceived wait time by using virtual queues. They help businesses address and improve productivity and turnover, all while improving client satisfaction.
How do queue management systems work? Utilizing a digital platform, queue management apps allow customers to "check-in" to a line via a digital device; then, they can "wait in line" wherever is convenient. While waiting for their turn on a ski lift, for example, a customer could go grab a coffee or sit by the fire in the lodge rather than waiting out in the snow. When it is their turn, the customer receives a text or push notification.
Queue Management Apps Reduce Wait Times
In restaurant and hospitality environments, customers dread long lines – they can often be a deterrent to visiting a specific location or cause customers never to revisit a location. Queue management apps provide a solution.
During the pandemic, businesses turned to queue management apps to ensure social distancing between patrons was possible. A particularly innovative example is the Radisson Blu luxury hotel in Andermatt, Switzerland, which made use of Ombori Grid's queuing system. They were surprised to find that it did more than solve their social distancing problem; it proved to be just as beneficial for staff as it was for customers.
Radisson Blu used the queueing system for their spa services, where they "printed a flyer for guests at check-in, which included a QR code as well as guidance on how to use the queuing system and how to change a reservation from a smartphone…. when guests have booked a time for the spa, they [received] a message on their smartphone alerting them it's time to visit the spa.” This removed waiting in line and awkward bathrobe encounters.
The queue system built better organization into the business services, and with less chaos and fewer lines, service staff members were able to offer more prompt service to the hotel's customers.
Appointment Booking and Virtual Check-In
Appointment booking and virtual check-ins are part of queue systems. They offer a platform through which the customers book appointments and check-in. In past years, these systems were already prominent in healthcare settings. Many patients have found themselves requesting or booking appointments online and completing check-in paperwork prior to arriving in the waiting room. However, the pandemic prompted the restaurant and hospitality industry to adopt the technology quickly. Customers can now schedule reservations online and check-in prior to visiting.
For example, the Ombori Grid queue management system can help restaurants meet the demands of today's customers by allowing visitors to pre-book their reservations online and check-in when they are on their way or when they arrive. This not only simplifies the process for the patron but streamlines the process for the restaurant hosts while providing transparency on reservations.
Digital signage refers to static images, video feeds, and interactive signs used for informational or marketing purposes. Signage can be placed in varying locations – wall-mounted, floor-mounted, or ceiling-mounted – to target specific audiences during their in-person experiences.
In a restaurant and hospitality setting, information is critical, and customers increasingly expect transparency ahead of arrival. Visitors want to know the menu for a specific location, for example, or they want to learn exactly what amenities and services hotels offer before they book a room. In the past, customers relied on service staff to deliver such information over the phone or upon arrival; today, digital signage provides the kind of freedom of information and immediate access that guests have come to expect. With digital signage answering a lot of questions, the service staff can dedicate more of their time to alternative tasks.
Technologies like the ones Ombori builds are starting to make even infamously frustrating experiences, like air travel, smoother for customers. Madrid airport, for example, has recently installed Ombori Grid's Guided Selling Store Assistant to help travelers at the airport. It offers multiple features that provide some peace of mind help reduce uncertainty at the airport, including:
- The ability for passengers to scan their boarding passes and receive an update on their flight and gate status
- An interactive map that directs airport patrons to specific locations within the airport. Customers can find bathrooms, stores, restaurants, etc.
- A guided selling feature that directs customers towards products in the duty-free section. Users can browse available inventory and purchase products. This system can also help users identify products based on their preferences.
Self-order kiosks are an interactive form of digital signage that have risen in popularity in the restaurant industry. They provide interactive menus and touchscreens visitors can use to order and pay for their food without interacting with a staff member. One prominent issue that the self-order kiosks address is errors in fast-food orders. In 2019, Rachel Pittman of QSR wrote about the increasing problems the industry sees with order inaccuracies and the factors that contribute to it: "More complex menus, busier lanes, and the drive-thru's emphasis on speed are all factors that put pressure on accuracy. But these pressures aren't expected to dwindle in the near future…" With self-order kiosks, the opportunity for miscommunication dwindles, and customer satisfaction increases.
Fast food should be exactly that — fast. Since they reduce wait times and errors, the self-order kiosks are not only more prominent — they are popular! In fact, according to the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, 53% of guests marked self-ordering kiosks as either somewhat important or extremely important to their guest experience, and Toast recently ranked the self-order kiosks among the top 5 most important pieces of restaurant tech and hardware.
Online Ordering (BOPIS and BOPAC)
BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) and BOPAC (buy online, pick up at curbside), are click and collect services primarily seen in the retail sector. More recently, these platforms have been used in the hospitality industry to accommodate eCommerce trends, and in the restaurant industry to streamline to-go orders. With click and collect services, customers order and pay for their product online ahead of time.
Then, they show up at the store and either walk inside to pick up the order or use their phone to prompt a store employee to deliver it to their car in the parking lot. Before the pandemic, BOPAC and BOPIS services were already in place at some major retail chains, but the pandemic brought the proliferation of click and collect to nearly every industry, including dining — curbside pickup at most local restaurants is now a norm.
How Technology Benefits the Service Staff
The data is clear — queue management services, digital signage, and click and collect services make for higher customer satisfaction and increased sales. But what do these technologies do to benefit service staff?
- When they aren't overwhelmed by managing customers' questions, orders, and emotions, service staff have more time to do productive work and feel less stressed. Since digital signage and queue systems can direct traffic, schedule appointments, and provide info, employees don't have to, which creates "a streamlined, efficient, and pleasant experience in the workplace."
- Service staff members offer improved customer service. As Ombori CEO Andreas Hassellöf writes, "Poor time optimization not only results in frustrated customers, but it also means frustrated employees." Because digital solutions make for more efficient use of them, they also make for calmer staff, which means better customer service.
- Service staff can be allocated more appropriately by management, improving their experience at work. The analytics provided by technology offer management insight into peak hours, offering them the opportunity to staff accordingly. When restaurants are under or over-staffed, staff satisfaction declines. With technology that offers strong analytics of the flow of traffic, managers can build schedules that better serve everyone.
Better Living through Technology
Technology is at its best when it makes our lives simpler, not more complicated, and in the restaurant and hospitality industries, it is doing exactly that. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adopt new tools like self-order kiosks, queue management systems, click and collect platforms, and digital signage, the increased customer satisfaction that came with those changes tells us something important: the pressures of the pandemic did not create unnecessary innovation; rather, they accelerated businesses toward solutions that better serve both customers and employees. These are innovations we can expect to stick around.
Björn is Chief Experience Officer of Ombori Grid. He spent the early part of his career in the music business before moving into retail design and video production. His passion is for creating unique and memorable retail experiences that excite and delight customers. He spent 6 years at Visual Art in Stockholm before joining Ombori in 2018.