Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Catering industry embraces digital innovation

The restaurant industry is one of the most easily adapting business sectors. After all, success of a restaurant or a catering business largely depends on its ability to adapt swiftly to changing consumer behavior. The pandemic has been a strong driver for many industries to digitalize and HoReCa is not an exception.

Timely integration of innovative solutions into a restaurant business is essential for maintaining its competitive edge. Successful cafes and restaurants are extensively implementing new technology and remote services that help optimize internal operations, attract new customers and expand the customer base, as well as improve quality. The most popular strategy in FoodTech is developing, employing and adding more features to mobile apps, using marketing analysis (CRM) and implementing QR codes for fast access to the menu and check payments. Non-conventional solutions like Big Data are also being embraced by some businesses.

Naturally, the key development vector for the restaurant industry in the past couple of years has been delivery. With lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions in place, the demand for online orders has soared. Ordering delivery used to be an occasional activity to mark a birthday or a romantic dinner. Now having restaurant food at home is almost like a routine: delivery can replace lunch or dinner just because one does not feel like cooking. Delivery services have grown by at least 20–30% in the past year depending on the region. That prompted many companies to upgrade their services and expand the functionality of their mobile apps.

For example, Yakitoriya has a fully automated delivery service that accepts orders from the website, the app and the call center simultaneously while also automatically forwarding orders to the production department. All stages of the order are recorded and customers can monitor the progress from the moment they placed the order to the moment they received it. Many restaurants also use chat bots to communicate with customers faster. Chat bots are helpful with pre-orders and table bookings as well as customer feedback.

Following the example of the Western restaurant industry, Russian catering businesses are working on technologies to optimize costs such as cloud solutions for restaurant management, from instruction cards and procurement to management reporting and loyalty programs. New IT services emerge to improve customer experience, including self-service pre-sale kiosks, face recognition for personalized offers and VR/AR menu demonstration. We should not, however, expect widespread implementation of these solutions, primarily due to a large amount of investment required. Many restaurants cannot afford them right now.

Still, the industry is moving forward and adopting convenient digital solutions. For example, to improve the quality of customer service and streamline wait staff operations, Yakitoriya uses an innovative mobile waiter system that takes orders remotely and forwards them to the kitchen. It can also process loyalty cards and take payments remotely. Over 99% of Yakitoriya customers have tried this service since it was launched.

Another widely used technology is Quick Response. QR menus and checks are slowly becoming a standard service restaurants. At Yakitoriya, customers use QR codes not only to see the menu but also to leave a tip. Other QR-based content includes brand history, discounts and special offers.

Better customer service is not the only area where digital solutions can be put to good use. Big Data helps analyze the changing demand and promptly respond to these changes. By monitoring customer activity and preferences, restaurants can divide their customer base into segments by types of orders, activity and other important factors to create personalized loyalty programs and build end-to-end communications with customers across all channels.

By Alexander Muratov, Development Director, the company owning the Yakitoriya brand

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