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Staying in touch translates into increased business for restaurants

April 8, 2022

The last couple of years have brought about a number of changes in restaurant operations. I know that’s an understatement … but what I’m talking about today is the innovative ways that eateries can track and incentivize loyal customers. The key is that these systems don’t require any substantial data entry on the part of the restaurant, saving on labor while giving loyal guests more reasons to return for happy hour, breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The companies that create this innovative technology know that people are becoming more and more susceptible to information overload, resulting in an increased attachment to smartphones as opposed to email, which requires opening up a separate application – more actions, more buttons to push and more time used. Not very effective. In short, immediate connection through mobile phones is superior to email.

Leading-edge sales, marketing and retention software helps business owners convert first-time customers into repeat customers.  An example of this is the online systems used by Starbucks. The customer can experience the entire restaurant (minus the coffee aroma) online, and then simply drop by the store to pick up their favorite product.

A particularly restaurant-friendly version of the software can identify a new customer and send a special gift card or discount inviting him or her to return. These aptly named “guerrilla marketing” techniques keep the customer from being inundated with annoying advertising emails and texts by gently bringing him or her back to the restaurant with attractive deals and incentives. Some systems are even awarding points for visits which can be redeemed for discounts or free goodies.

The program can send a gift card to customers within minutes of their dining in the restaurant. This little gift for being a new customer has proven to be an effective marketing tool. And though much of this recordkeeping is based on the customers’ credit card, even cash customers who ask for a text or email receipt can receive gift cards and discounts. A simple example of this is the checkout system at some grocery stores. You simply insert your credit card when you check out and it instantly recognizes you and emails a receipt – along with occasional ads and promotions. Of course, you can always opt out if you wish.

On the internal side, these processes can also save owners, managers and chefs hundreds of late-night hours by reconciling daily inventory. If the system is populated with sufficient information, the software can even order specific food items by tracking the restaurants’ pars (food orders based on estimates of what will sell). This helps control costs by monitoring waste and possible spoilage.

An example of an application that’s not restaurant-based but has proven to be popular is the virtual bus pass system developed for Ocean City, Md. The software eliminates paper transactions and physical bus passes. At the bus stop, potential riders are encouraged to download an app onto their phone so they can pay for their bus rides without fumbling for change at the point of purchase. Sound familiar? Similarly, Parkmobile users here at the beach appreciate not having to tote barrels of quarters around. Just enter your parking spot number and it’s all taken care of. Frequent flyers will recognize the similar systems for virtual boarding passes and QR code scanners used by many airlines to speed the boarding/check-in process.

As restaurants streamline their operations and costs, efficient communication with past – and future – customers can tempt guests into returning. Just another way to help support our still-beleaguered business of eating.

 

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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