You can see it happening across the country: COVID-19 vaccine rates are strong, hospitalization rates are down, and Americans are flooding into their communities to catch up on all the things they missed during the pandemic.
While the temptation may be to breathe a sigh of relief that business can now “go back to normal,” quick service restaurant (QSR) chains must instead embrace the “new normal” and understand that the acceleration of innovation within the restaurant industry is not slowing down. According to CNBC:
- The emphasis on drive-through service has increased the competition between the QSR and fast-casual sectors. Chains like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack have announced plans to add drive-through lanes.
- Chains like KFC and Burger King have designed new restaurant formats that prioritize drive-through lanes and downsize dining rooms.
- Automation is being implemented to handle the surge of drive-through orders:
- McDonald’s and White Castle are both testing artificial intelligence (AI) software designed to make drive-through ordering faster and more accurate.
- Arby’s is investing in technology that will better inform staffing needs for traffic fluctuations.
Then there’s a sobering survey result from the National Restaurant Association’s annual State of the Restaurant Industry Report: 81% of QSR operators say their customer base has significantly changed.
Clearly this is not a time when any fast-food chain can back off their operational innovations – not when the major chains are moving aggressively to disrupt the sector.
So how did we get here, and how should your chain move forward in 2021?
Surviving the Pandemic, By the Numbers
Overall, the fast-food sector experienced a nearly 20% decline in restaurant traffic in 2020. However, as concerns for safety and social distancing took center stage, any restaurant with a drive-through lane automatically had an advantage. By December 2020, drive-through lanes accounted for 44% of off-premise orders across the entire restaurant industry. However, higher volume- and larger orders slowed down average drive-through service times by 29.8 seconds.
In response, QSRs have been quick to add online and contactless ordering, curbside pickup, expanded drive-through, and delivery options. Mobile apps have become increasingly popular for facilitating order-ahead and rapid curbside pickups with contactless and cashier-less payment options. Therefore, QSRs had recovered to their pre-pandemic levels by April 2021, with fast-food restaurants experiencing a 33% rise in the number of visits nationwide.
Today, Statista reports the U.S. QSR sector is forecast to rebound to $281.68 billion in 2021. If you expect your chain to earn its fair share of that, you can’t afford to just keep doing the same things you’ve been doing. You must continue to innovate.
Tech On the Attack
It seems clear that the average fast-food customer has adjusted to the extended conveniences the QSR sector has adopted and has no interest in giving them up. This means the most important thing your chain can do to survive in the post-pandemic “normal” is to shore up those digital transformations listed above: Online and mobile ordering, expanded drive-through access, contactless payment, curbside pickup and other delivery options.
It’s important to ensure your online ordering site and mobile app work effortlessly and are fully integrated with your POS systems. If your expanded drive-through includes curbside ordering, your PCI-secure network must extend to workers’ handheld devices. And many restaurants are using QR codes to help customers access digital menus and discounts, take advantage of special offers, and even participate in loyalty programs.
Loyalty programs have become an important part of efficiently earmarking your marketing budget. At a time when your customer base is in flux, you benefit by learning as much as you can about your regular customers.
Find out about their preferences: What are their demographics? Do they want to dine in? Indoors or outdoors? What special offers do they most respond to? Answers to these questions can be gathered digitally, both during the order process and online, either through your website or social media.
There’s another important piece of digital, mobile technology that your chain needs to ensure food safety and establish the consistently excellent customer experience that will keep your customers coming back. It will even help your trainers pinpoint the updates required to keep your entire workforce on the same page and operating at the highest level.
And it all works through devices your employees already own and use.
Moving Forward With MeazureUp
If you want to keep up with the big chains, you must maximize the productivity of your staff and the efficiency of your operations. Much of what restaurants do is tracked through checklists, whether it be daily lists or the forms necessary for audits. You can digitize and standardize all the checklists for both functions — as well as best practices, training videos, feedback options, and more — and make them available to all employees through a single mobile app called MeazureUp.
Here’s how it works:
Checklists are created and stored in the app. Any employee can use their phone to access any list, complete their entry in seconds, and add photos or videos as helpful. Their entry is automatically tagged with the employee, time, date and location, so it becomes your business’ legal record. Then, it is uploaded and made available through the app’s dashboard. Anyone who needs access to it can see all of the actions that are happening in real time, no matter where they are.
If entries are missed, it’s observed in hours instead of days or weeks. If results are subpar, managers can spot and correct trends before they affect the customer experience.
When it’s time to perform an audit, no one needs to spend hours preparing the documentation because it’s all already available in the app. You can perform audits remotely using your saved documentation and common videoconferencing apps. Since you’re not spending time preparing paperwork, you can redirect that time to do more proactive tasks like mentoring employees and assessing ways to improve the customer experience.
To benefit from MeazureUp, you don’t have to invest anywhere near the capital that the major chains are putting into R&D. In fact, you’ll recoup the cost in office supplies and staff time that no longer must be directed toward administrative tasks – not to mention you’ll have access to MeazureUp’s responsive customer service team.
For more information on how MeazureUp can help your restaurant chain attack operational challenges, visit https://meazureup.com/restaurant-checklist-app/.