I recently had a conversation with a CMO and a CTO at two different restaurant chains. The talk couldn’t have been more telling, and different, at least to me. The CTO was mostly concerned about tasks; fixing problems and perceived problems as well as managing the never-ending full-plate of initiatives and projects currently underway. “I’m just jammed and frankly, too busy to consider anything new”. When I asked him what his top priority was, the answer had nothing to do with generating new business, building traffic or increasing sales. IT departments don’t think like that, it’s just not generally (while it should be) in their DNA. I wanted to ask what about commerce? What about a customer sales strategy and new ways to analyze data? What are you doing to keep up with your customers?
The conversation with the CMO was more open and all about creating and executing new marketing and sales initiatives, accessing and analyzing marketing and customer intelligence and yes, increasing traffic – essentially being present wherever their customers may be hanging out. This was the right answer, IMHO. The CMO was equally busy but also open to new technology ideas and willing to listen. Then, the enviable, you need to go talk to the head of IT. Ugh.
Where are your customers?
People still need to eat but how they do that today now has changed in part because of technology and in part because every industry is being disrupted. They have lots of options and options create competition for mind share. Let me suggest that your restaurant should go where your customers are hanging out and you will have a strategic advantage. What’s happening now? A lot of disruption and competitive threats to your operation:
- Catering disguised as something new because it’s now bespoke and should be part of every restaurant’s business plan
- Grocery stores like Whole Foods have meals ready to eat, beer bars and restaurants in their newer locations to satisfy the realities of a time-pressed society and a new generation
- Ingredient providers like Blue Apron disrupt grocery and restaurants alike and nest your customers at home not in your restaurant
- Online ordering portals and platforms disrupt dining in a restaurants burdened with high fixed costs. A smaller footprint with more focus on takeway is coming
- Virtual restaurants or “Dark restaurants” are being opened to fulfill online orders with no seating in off-the-grid lower cost locations
- Automation is everywhere – the autonomous robots are coming and this will affect FOH and BOH operations and profitability that is creating a new segment positioned between QSR and Fast casual; AutoCasual? So talk about disruption!
- New channels for ordering – like Orderscape that utilizes an omni-channel gateway and advanced voice and chat platform technology to enable ordering via Alexa, Google Home, Messenger and even Slack are disrupting mobile and web ordering channels
All these and other future market forces and disrupting strategies should be considered by the modern operator and not delayed until the “IT desk is cleared”, which it never will be. These are not generally even IT decisions. These are traffic and sales generator opportunities and customer insights opportunities so vital to the continued success of a restaurant. Don’t let these new forces of change or technology opportunities slip by because of a lack of vision or education. Embrace the horror of new and be open and receptive to new ways to find, reach and engage with your more mobile and technically-savvy customers wherever they may be. Food Tech is here to stay and will absolutely define the winners and losers.