The Digital Divide: 3 Reasons Why Some Restaurants Outperform Others

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For two years, restaurants have faced a relentlessly challenging environment fraught with uncertainty, significant operational changes and supply chain disruptions — not to mention a labor shortage that is costing 71% of restaurants $5,000 or more per month.

How have restaurants survived and even thrived in a world where everything was against them? The pandemic brought to light two key factors that influence business performance: 1) the extraordinary resilience of restaurant owner staff, and 2) their level in technology usage.

Whether they pivoted to online ordering or re-engineered dining room experiences, restaurants that were already more tech-enabled or quicker to adopt new technologies tended to bounce back faster and withstand additional curveballs as Covid variants made their way through the Greek alphabet.

Seemingly temporary solutions have become core to restaurant operations. This will continue as operators and owners of U.S. restaurants look to increase guest volume, efficiency, and profitability. A Popmenu study of 415 U.S. restaurant owners and operators found that 51% plan to automate more online operations in 2022 and 41% plan to automate more on-premise operations.

As restaurants take steps toward recovery and set the stage for post-pandemic growth, it is critical that they continually evaluate their execution in three key areas that can affect whether they land on the higher-performing side of a widening digital divide.

Related: This Is What People Want in a Post-Pandemic Restaurant Experience

Digital divider #1 – Online menus

The online menu is the most valuable and underutilized sales asset of a restaurant. A text-only or PDF experience is not going to do a menu justice and will likely cost a restaurant some business: 30% of U.S. consumers said that if they visit a restaurant’s website on their mobile device — which most consumers do — and they see a PDF menu, they will move on to another restaurant.

Quick tips:

  • Offer an interactive menu with enticing photos, descriptions and the ability to review dishes. Imagine going to Amazon to purchase a pair of shoes. There are no photos or written details. Most likely, the shoes won’t make it to your shopping cart. Same goes for ordering meals. Popmenu’s research shows that dishes with photos get four times the number of reviews and receive twice as many orders.

  • Leverage the menu for search engine optimization (SEO). Each dish should be set up to be indexed and unique for search engines. Search engines are alerted when a restaurant changes its menu, adds new dishes, or posts reviews. This allows the restaurant to rank higher in search results and increases website traffic. The interactive experience also helps increase customer conversions.

  • Integrate with Google Business Profile. Google owns the vast majority of search engine marketing share, and nearly half of all Google searches are local, like “restaurants near me. “

By implementing an SEO-driven online menu and website, The Hampton Social, a coastal-inspired, multi-location restaurant group in Illinois, Florida and Tennessee, experienced a 63% increase in average monthly website sessions within three months (reaching over 285,000) and more than doubled the value of its organic traffic keywords to over $520,000. Texas-based upscale steakhouse, B&B Butchers & Restaurant, drove over $450,000 in online orders since expanding digital capabilities during the pandemic.

Related: These 3 Restaurant Franchises Thrived During the Pandemic. Here’s What to Learn From Their Successes

Digital divider #2 – Marketing … or lack thereof

Many restaurants don’t have dedicated marketing staff. A lack of resources and time can make it difficult to attract and retain customers. Marketing can seem complicated and expensive, but it’s really just about staying in front guests with “craveable assets.” Many things can be automated, and at a manageable cost.

Quick tips:

  • Send automated text messages signaled by guest behavior. Automatically send a follow up message to guests who place orders, like a dish, or leave reviews. Invite your guests to become VIPs to receive special offers, invitations to events, and other perks.

  • Stay social. 45% of consumers have tried a restaurant because of a social media post by the establishment. Share information on new dishes, happy hour, trivia nights and wine tastings with your friends.

The Chori-Man, known for chorizo-making artisans in southern California, is very active on social media and other digital marketing channels. They include their customers and staff in their story and use user-generated photos and content to complement professional visuals. From 2020-2021, The Chori-Man attracted twice as many monthly visitors as they had the previous year and saw a 40% increase in their Instagram following, which is now over 20,000.

Related: Food For Thought: Restaurants Go Digital To Survive and Thrive

Digital divider #3 – On-premise execution

Once viewed as a barrier to building relationships with guests, technology is being adopted as a facilitator by restaurants as they navigate safety mandates as well as talent shortages. From QR-based, contactless dining on-premise to AI-enabled phone answering, restaurants are continually engaging guests even when they can’t be in front of them.

Quick tips:

  • Be available 24/7. Two-in-five consumers (42%) say, if they call to make a reservation at a restaurant and they get voicemail, they immediately move on to another restaurant. AI technology can be used by restaurants to answer both common and customized questions. AI technology can send the caller a link that will take them to the restaurant’s website, make a reservation, and record voicemails via SMS so that owners can immediately see priority messages.
  • Use waitlisting as a marketing tool. With new tech, guests automatically receive a link to the menu when they add themselves to a waitlist via a QR code or the restaurant’s website. After each meal, guests are invited submit a review and to follow the restaurant. This allows for ongoing engagement.

The Deck on Laguna Beach in California uses automation to support its oceanfront dining experience, ensuring customer inquiries are addressed even if they can’t get to the phone. In 30 days, AI-enabled technology answered 1,658 calls, covering everything from restaurant hours and location to reservations and ordering information.

Consumers became accustomed to new ways of doing things during the pandemic with 75% expecting restaurants to offer more digitally-enabled experiences both online and on-premise going forward. Restaurants that use technology to improve their connections and ease of use are poised for greater success as the industry strives to sustain recovery.

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