The past year has been a rollercoaster for the restaurant industry.
The unforeseen challenges presented by trying to contain a pandemic and the seismic shifts in how we live day-to-day has made mere survival for restaurants & bars a monumental feat. Outdoor dining has served as a buoy in the storm for many full service restaurants, allowing them to offer in-person dining again, albeit on a patio, parking lot, sidewalk, alley, or other makeshift setting.
Those owners and operators who have figured out al fresco dining and shifted operating procedures to accommodate guest and staff safety are among the lucky few to have kept the doors open. According to a survey released by The National Restaurant Association in September, 100,000 (or 1 in 6) restaurants have closed their doors either permanently or long-term. Additionally, nearly 3 million industry employees still remain out of work–that’s far more job losses than any other sector during the coronavirus pandemic.
As colder weather is hitting much of the country, there are new challenges for full service restaurants to tackle, just as they’ve found their groove with outdoor dining. So what do restaurants need to consider as they make the shift to indoor dining?
Safety precautions, including increased cleaning protocols, socially distanced seating arrangements, upgraded air filtration systems, and contactless payments, will obviously continue to take center stage as the most important thing operators can do to keep guests and staff safe. But it’s not a Field Of Dreams scenario: if you build a safe dining experience they may or may not come. Anxiety still runs high among diners with some polls reporting diner anxiety hovering around 80%, while a Zagat study conducted in June 2020 shows 83%of those polled are not immediately interested in dining out (waiting 3 months or more) and would only be slightly more comfortable with social distancing and masks worn by staff.
Still others are wary no matter how many protocols are implemented, “I am a bit reluctant to return to indoor dining anytime soon.” Said one diner interviewed in a recent poll conducted by Eater, “I think that it poses a lot of problems. People not adhering to the rules & just being ignorant & thinking only of themselves.”
The safety of staff is a major concern for operators as well. Even with indoor dining capacity capped at 25-50% in many municipalities, servers still carry the bulk of the personal risk as operators rush to regain revenue and over-eager diners disregard personal safety in search of Sunday brunch. According to Grub Street serving staff are wary of the behavior of both employers and patrons as indoor dining returns to New York City, “Not feeling that care returned in this decision from my bosses and ultimately from customers when they’ll choose to dine indoors is really painful” commented one industry worker.
So what is an operator to do?
You need to maintain a high level of service, keep interactions intact at the right moments of service, consider the safety of your staff and customers, and cut operational costs wherever possible. Simple right? Well, maybe with the right technology, a lot of these headaches virtually disappear.
Technology solutions can solve more than transactions. The mere presence of technology options in the dining room can goa long way in setting diners at ease, demonstrating a venue’s commitment to keeping everyone (guests and staff) safe and happy. But it’s got to be the right tech. The last thing an operator wants is for guests, who are already seated further apart, sharing the same space with fewer guests, and maybe even eating behind plexiglass, to feel more isolated as they look around at a sea of guests staring at mobile devices as they order and add items to their tab, or staff wielding bulky, dirty tablets and card readers around to collect payment for their meals.
Take Outpay, for example; it streamlines flow of service while maintaining staff/guest interactions at the right moments to maximize profits and positive experiences.
So exactly how does Outpay work? QR code technology allows guests to safely browse the menu, while the same mobile wallet technology used by tech companies like Uber allows guests to share the card info securely from their device without re-entering card details. Guests order with their server, just like they’ve always done and tickets are fired in the POS as items are added throughout the meal. Once the meal is over the payment info, collected and securely stored when the guest walked in, is charged and the guests get up and walk out. It’s that simple.
And Outpay doesn’t add to operating costs. With the NRA estimating that merchants are spending 60% more on operating costs on average than they did pre-COVID, it’s important not to add another new expense to the mix. Outpay reduces overhead by integrating directly with the POS the venue is already using, requiring no new software, no new hardware, no maintenance fees, and no start up costs. In fact, Outpay is100% free of charge to the operator; the costs are covered by POS providers and processors.
Outpay saves merchants money in other ways too, like reducing transaction fees–unlike some processors who charge 3.5%card-not-present rates on top of additional monthly fees, which just feels punitive and cruel. Outpay also removes the headache of chargebacks and walkouts for merchants by guaranteeing payment collected for every transaction. No more having to deal with charge disputes or tracking down lost revenue when a guest dines and dashes.
Outpay’s technology was developed with hospitality and servers in mind. Staff follow the same processes for opening tickets, entering orders into the POS, and closing tabs as they always have. No new processes to learn and no awkward hardware to carry around the dining room. In fact, Outpay has been shown to speed up turn time by 19% without any reduction in ticket averages. And the experience for guests is efficient, enjoyable, and maybe even a little better than pre-COVID; they place their order with their server and select payment options already securely stored on their phone without having to input personal or financial info or download any third party apps, and can enjoy their meal and decide when they’re done instead of waiting around for a bill when they’re done.
As in-person dining makes the shift indoors and operators pivot again to meet new challenges head on, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to choose between reducing operating costs and keeping your staff and guests safe as you provide outstanding hospitality experiences. The right technology makes both possible: creating seamless experiences that make everyone happy, and isn’t that why you got into this industry to begin with?