The Restaurant Digital Shift Is Here, Innovative Tech Helps

Epson OmniLink TM-T88VI point-of-sale printers are leveraged within the Ordermark virtual kitchen solution, allowing restaurants to print brick-and-mortar and virtual kitchen online orders through one simple system. (Photo: Courtesy of Epson / Ordermark)

New research from Square shows that restaurants are fundamentally re-imagining the way they do business – digitally and through tech – to keep their operation running smoothly, improve their bottom line, and continue serving their customers.

Some of the highlights from Square’s Future of Restaurants Report include:

  • 91 percent of restaurants have made or plan to make investments in kitchen automation technology.
  • 58 percent of restaurants said they prefer to use their own app or website for delivery.
  • Nearly half of restaurant owners or managers plan to continue offering digital menu access using URL or QR codes for the near future.
  • Three in four restaurants plan on offering contactless ordering and payment options across all channels, with 61 percent utilizing contactless payments on-premise.

Innovating with Digital Platforms, Technology

While restaurants are exploring new digital opportunities and the latest tech to improve business, some might wonder, “Is this digital shift temporary or here to stay?” According to Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Commerce E-volution, roughly 20 to 30 percent of the Covid-related shift to digital globally is expected to be permanent.

Mastercard’s report also shows that electronic payments in restaurants and stores accelerated in the United States due to COVID-19, with more consumers moving from plunking down cash to touch-free payments. Mastercard specifically saw non-cash payments jump by an additional 2.5 percentage points beyond the ongoing trend. This led to an acceleration of the shift from cash to electronic payments by a full year, noted Mastercard.

“Our analysis shows that even the smallest businesses see gains when they shift to digital,” said Bricklin Dwyer, Mastercard chief economist and head of the Mastercard Economics Institute.

For California-based JINYA Ramen Bar, implementing digital and contactless pay capabilities, as well as contactless ordering, was critical. In fact, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the JINYA team said they quickly realized: “No contactless service, no business.” So, the restaurant turned to NCR Corporation – a leading provider of software and technology for restaurants and other businesses – to enable the digital transformation of its 37 North American locations.

To date, half of JINYA’s locations have transitioned to NCR Aloha Essentials, a bundle of software, hardware and services that includes 24x7 support, secure contactless payments, handheld point-of-sale (POS) capabilities and an eCommerce platform. The remaining locations are in the process of transitioning, too.

“The investment in Aloha Essentials is saving us a substantial amount of money, and the franchisees are happy with the profits and customers it’s helping them gain,” said David Huang, senior manager of IT for JINYA Holdings, which oversees JINYA Ramen Bar. “It’s like getting a major facelift that provides our customers with an easy-to-use interface and a much better, safer experience.”

Dirk Izzo, president and general manager, NCR Hospitality, said, “Restaurants like JINYA Ramen Bar were smart, knowing they needed innovative technology to pivot to quickly meet diners’ and employees’ changing needs.”

Since the pandemic began, digital ordering channels have skyrocketed throughout the restaurant industry. In 2020, NCR processed more than 354 million digital orders through its platform, including orders for JINYA Ramen Bar.

Overall, Square noted the future is full of opportunities for restaurateurs – and digital platforms and technology are making it all possible.

“Restaurants are embracing new channels for customers to interact with their business, effectively meeting them wherever they are,” said Bruce Bell, head of Square for Restaurants. “Each of these channels represents a revenue stream for the restaurant and they connect to the same kitchen and are all managed by the same centralized POS system.”

For those restaurants that are embracing the shift to digital, here are a few exciting technologies, platforms and software services to explore, for improving operations and supporting revenue growth:

Omni-Channel Ordering & Delivery with Ordermark and Epson

Ordermark is helping restaurants capitalize on increased consumer demand for delivery. The company’s online order management technology consolidates mobile orders across online platforms and sends them to a single printer – enabling omni-channel ordering and delivery. Ordermark also operates Nextbite, a marketplace of virtual restaurant brands, that allows restaurants to offer popular delivery-only brands out of their existing space. The total Ordermark solution includes the Epson OmniLink TM-T88VI POS printer that allows restaurants to print brick-and-mortar and virtual kitchen online orders through one simple system.

James Garofalo, CFO/COO, Goddess and the Baker, a fast-casual cafe with locations in the heart of Chicago and one location outside Milwaukee in Brookfield, Wisconsin, said, “The Epson POS printer has been instrumental to our online ordering system, providing one central printer where we can receive both online orders for our restaurant and orders for our virtual kitchen brands – making it an easy and efficient solution to ensure we don't miss a beat.”

Text-Based Orders with OrdrAI

AI-driven texting is helping restaurants increase digital order throughput when they add the technology to their digital ordering channels. OrdrAI is making it possible.

The heart of OrdrAI’s technology resides in its conversational AI, which accurately interprets orders by using the SMS function of a mobile device. The combination of natural language processing with real-time quality control delivers a fast and convenient consumer experience.

The OrdrAI solution also provides: a secondary confirmation process to clarify order accuracy, when needed; web ordering capabilities, such as web-based text messages; integration with POS, menu, pricing, coupons, delivery zones, order, payment and rewards; and text marketing for personalized promotional and loyalty efforts.

OrdrAI said that restaurants that restaurants can expect sales to grow by five to eight percent in the first six months after launch.

Hyper Personalized, Relevant Marketing Content Through Movable Ink

For restaurants that want to engage with customers digitally – and more effectively – Movable Ink is an inventive platform that enables brands to create visual experiences that are based on relevant data for each customer. This means real-time, personalized content for customer engagement.

Currently, Movable Ink works with some of the largest food services companies, including Dunkin’, to drive more personalized, hyper-relevant customer experiences across their marketing programs.

Elle Kross, director of client strategy for travel, hospitality and food services at Movable Ink, said, “Think about the bar or restaurant everyone wants – ‘Where everybody knows your name.’ When a customer comes into your establishment, you want them to feel a sense of being home, of belonging, that this is somewhere they know they’re going to get a great meal. Why does that only exist when they come in the door?”

Kross said that data and visualization can allow a restaurant to deliver the feeling of knowing customers, making them want that great meal, through email communication. “Imagine how much more impact it could have if you leveraged the data you have on what that customer always orders, and highlighted the new item pairing with their favorite drink or dish,” she said. “We know consumers are creatures of habit, so getting them to order a net new item can be difficult but tying that new item to something they already know and love will increase orders and drive that feeling of ‘home.’”

Insights from More Than 50+ Million Monthly Restaurant Transactions

M Science, a New York-based company that’s focused on data-driven research and analytics, unveiled its Restaurant and Food Delivery Operator Intelligence Dashboard. The solution provides previously unavailable business-critical insights from more than 50+ million monthly restaurant transactions across 150+ restaurants and delivery providers, including Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub.

Elizabeth Coleman, head of corporate at M Science, said, “In today’s environment, nothing is predictable and corporations – particularly in the food space – are innovating at speeds never seen before. We wanted to build a platform that gave those food operators a complete lens, in real-time, into how markets, customers and, most importantly, wallets are changing and evolving.”

The dashboard provides vital consumer behavioral shopping insights, as well as deep and timely analyses of the online delivery space by market and aggregator – all to help a restaurant make critical business decisions. Online shopping behaviors are also shown at a highly granular geographic level, giving restaurants and delivery service providers clarity into their, and their competitor’s, true operating markets.

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