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How technology is transforming the casual dining industry

(Image credit: Image Credit: Peshkova / Shutterstock)

There are many challenges facing the casual dining, or quick service restaurant (QSR), industry today. From inflated ground rents, to the increase of minimum wage, businesses are feeling the squeeze in all directions. Not surprisingly, some players are suffering; in the UK, Prezzo (opens in new tab) and Jamie’s Italian (opens in new tab) have closed stores and Carluccio’s recently went through CVA (opens in new tab).

On the flipside, new channels are emerging that are helping to generate more sales. Delivery companies, such as Deliveroo and Just Eat, have unlocked new consumer demand, with delivery orders accounting for 10 per cent to 15 per cent of business. And it’s growing; orders have increased by 16 per cent in the past quarter alone (opens in new tab). Moreover, research (opens in new tab) by the NPD Group estimated an additional spend of over £650m (+17 per cent) by consumers on delivery services by 2019.

On top of that, technology innovations are helping to open new doors, and businesses that are digitising the customer journey are reaping the rewards. Starbucks lets you pre-order your coffee in-app, and several chains are now supporting pay-at-table. This removes a huge customer pain-point of queuing or waiting to pay; UK pizza chain, Pizza Express, found that 67 per cent of diners hate waiting for the bill (opens in new tab).

It’s time for restaurants to invest in digital; with 80 per cent of restaurants risking failure in the first five years (opens in new tab), success means more than just good food in this day and age; experience is key. The race is now on in the QSR sector to introduce new innovations that cut waiting times, but which still cater to consumers who are hungry for a seamless, high-quality service.

Enter the chatbot

Chatbots have been around in other sectors for a while, but they’re beginning to find a foothold in casual dining, with some chains enabling customers to pay through apps such as Facebook Messenger.

UK restaurant group Wahaca has been pioneering an approach which enables diners to pay a bill in as little as 45 seconds. A customer simply has to open Facebook Messenger, select the restaurant location and enter the table number. The order is recalled from the cash register and displayed in Messenger for the customer to approve and pay with one-click. The payment is then processed, and confirmation is sent to the cash register, and the bill closed.

The system – also developed by Flyt and Adyen – saw great results during Wahaca’s pilot initiative, accounting for up to 14.5 per cent of payments in the restaurant, with a peak conversion rate of 69 per cent.

A key advantage highlighted ahead of a broader rollout is the sheer scale of application, with over 1.3 billion users of Facebook Messenger globally. In the latest development, UK burger chain, Byron, is also rolling out its Facebook Messenger payment chatbot across restaurants. As Byron turns its attention to achieving operational excellence, this payment experience is one of the first visible changes being made as part of innovation in its restaurants.

The bot also made a debut at Facebook’s Developer conference, F8, where it was showcased as one of Facebook’s favourite applications of its bot technology.

Pay-at-table revolution

The concept of paying remotely via a Chatbot has led to the roll out of “pay-at-table” consumer transactions. In most cases, merchant mobile platforms are used and integrated with a restaurant’s point-of-sale (POS) system. The service enables consumers to use their mobile devices to download a restaurant’s app or mobile web page to view and pay bills.

In most cases, consumers will simply scan a QR code on their bill (opens in new tab) without requiring assistance from a waiter or waitress, and can add additional parties to the payment process; addressing the pain point of splitting a bill.

A high profile roll out of this kind of technology can been seen by Pizza Express (opens in new tab), who has also teamed up with Flyt to launch a pay-at-table app, to provide a waiter-less experience. Pizza Express is an example for a casual restaurant transforming its consumer experience – gone are the days of hailing waiters – customers simply need to open the app, add their table number, pay and leave, all within two minutes of viewing the bill.

Overall, these kinds of mobile payments will not only meet the growing demand for consumer expectation, but also provide financial success. For many restaurants, POS mobility can contribute towards an increase in revenue and reduce overhead costs (opens in new tab). It can also transform customer satisfaction. Putting the payment process in the hands of the consumer, makes it possible for staff to serve more guests and turn tables faster over the same period of time, allowing staff more time to focus on customer interaction.

Key considerations for QSRs

There are a lot of exciting innovations emerging in the QSR industry to make the dining experience better than ever. Whether it’s the ability to order home-delivery with a tap of your finger, pre-order your favourite coffee each morning, or pay at your table within seconds, technology will continue to push the boundaries of customer experience. This, in turn, will influence customer expectations meaning QSRs must adapt to meet their evolving needs.

Crucially, each new service must be tested, and staff thoroughly trained. Too often new technology fails because restaurant staff don’t see the value or, worse, they see it negatively impacting their roles. Educating staff about the benefits of new technology is paramount to its successful implementation.

Done right, technology has the ability to help QSRs give today’s consumers exactly what they crave: great quality service, but faster, easier and better connected than ever before.

Myles Dawson, Managing Director, Adyen (opens in new tab) UK
Image Credit: Peshkova  / Shutterstock

Myles is the Managing Director of Adyen UK. He came to the company from Rackspace, where he spent four years helping the business grow from scale-up to publicly listed company.