The latest restrictions on UK hospitality, announced by the UK Government may not be as bad as you think. One of the restrictions means licenced restaurants are for the next 6 months, limited to taking table orders. On the face of it this could cause significant issues, however in reality it may not be as bad as we all think. In fact, it may be an opportunity to thrive.
What is the Government's rationale behind this restriction?
The view is that a lot of spread of Covid is happening within Restaurants and Pubs in areas where people might mingle, e.g. near the bar area. As customers move about between their table and the bar to place orders, they are in many cases not keeping socially distant. This increased contact, within a venue is seen as a major cause of transmission.
By restricting customers to their tables the intent is to limit the opportunity for customers within a venue to mingle and hence spread the virus. This logic sounds well and good however it can pose some challenges to a business.
The challenges of table restricted service
1. Increased Burden On Staff
For restaurants already used to performing a Table Service, this is not an issue. However for many pubs, bars and casual dining restaurants that depend on the customer ordering at the bar, an increased level of service is now required. Staff simply have to make far more trips to the table. Per customer, on average an extra 4 trips back and forth to each table are to be expected. Their is the initial seating of the customer or taking the menu, then there is the trip to collect the order, the trip to take the food already existed, so this is not extra, but the forth trip is the trip to take payment. This all assumes the customer doesn't ask for an extra coke mid service which of course requires additional trips. One such pub owner said they would need to hire extra staff, just to deal with the extra burden of running a table service.
With these new restrictions we're going to need to hire more staff to take all the drinks to the customers tables
2. Covering For Staff Illness
The additional burden on staff is further complicated with the fact that if anyone in the venue is contact traced to be Covid positive, the restaurant may need to quarantine that staff member. Whilst that is the correct thing to do, it does increase costs, as the Restaurant now needs a larger pool of staff to be able to provide cover for when a staff member is required to quarantine.
3. Customer Confidence
Many restaurants we have spoken to have felt that the new restrictions place further confidence issues with customers. They may not want to have a waitress approach their table multiple times. The challenge here is how does a restaurant maintain full and complete social distance between the customer and staff member? Whilst this restriction limits the interaction of customers mingling with each other bear the bar area, it increases the number of interactions between each customer and staff member. Will this fear put of some customers from booking tables?
Our Clients Have Dealt With These Challenges, And So Can You.
Now bear with us. But since the crisis began back in April a number of our clients have been reporting back to us the same thing. Business is good, business is booming, we're busier than ever. Those are the stories we hear back.
We'd never go back to taking orders at the bar. We get way more revenue through table orders
So what's going on?
It started first with our clients that already had our app for Delivery orders. We'd provide clients a bespoke mobile ordering app that let them take orders for Delivery, the intent was to reduce their reliance on 3rd party food portals. And it worked very well.
Third party food portals such as Just Eat and Deliveroo charge up to 35% commission on every order, we'd built up a good client base by helping businesses migrate their delivery orders to their own app, and reducing their commissions to around 2%, that's way many of our clients joined us in the first place, those same clients then discovered we offer a Table Service feature.
For our clients running their own app, all was well, then the first lockdown came. Luckily for them, Delivery orders were still allowed, so they thrived using our app. Then as lockdown started to ease, all of a sudden our clients that had a Table Service we're able to re-open for indoor dining along with delivery. They asked us to enable to Table Service feature within the App, their rationale was to minimise social contact between customer and staff member. It also hadn't been lost on them that the idea of taking orders directly from an App via the customers own phone meant they had less reliance on staff.
So we enabled the Table Service functionality, not knowing what the results would be.
Ordering via an app for Table Service is not something new, in fact Wetherspoons launched their own app, aimed at taking Table Orders back in March 2017. The idea is the Customer downloads the app, orders from it, pays and then as if by magic the food arrives to the table a few minutes later.
The Results We're Incredible
It did not take too long to see just how well Table Ordering via app worked. Just as lockdown eased, customers started to venture out, looking for somewhere other than their own kitchen table to enjoy a meal at. Those customers that entered into an establishment using an app with table service enabled experienced something new.
As they entered they we're seated at a table. On the table, clear instructions on how to download the app. Within minutes a newly seated customer would be browsing a menu deciding what to pick. As they browsed, many would receive an app based notification, it was an offer, from the Restaurant offering the customer some free loyalty points - a discount of their first order. This was new for the customer.
Some minutes later the customer would browse the menu, choosing what they wanted. A quick tap of the app and the order was placed, it was race through the internet straight to the kitchen where it would print out, ready for the chef to make. No waiter required.
The customers would then wait, expectantly until some minutes later the waitress would with the food. The first and in most cases, only time their was ever contact. Mid way through eating a 2nd round of drinks would appear at the table, the result of a quick extra order by the customer, that resulted in a ticket printing off at the bar, clearly labelled as a "Coke for Table 2". No need to catch the waiters eye for that order, just a few taps in the app and its done.
Some 60 minutes later the customers, bellies satisfied think to call the waitress for the bill. A quick gesture from the waitress across the room signals they customer can just leave. No need for a bill, they have already paid and the receipt is in their inbox.
It feels like we've not paid, can we really just leave?
And so it went on, our clients seated their customers at the tables, they placed orders, they re-ordered multiple times and when they finished they'd simply leave and the waiter serving them would acknowledge their custom.
Word spread, the restaurants got busy. "It's a great way to order", "I just ordered peas to see if they'd come, and they did!", "we just got up and left at the end, it was great", "I felt very safe, nobody came near us for the whole service".
It turned out, customers loved using the app. Waiting staff loved it as well, less contact with customers required. Most importantly restaurant owners loved it.
We served an extra £1,500 worth of pizzas, we would not have done that without the app as our staff would have been run of their feet taking orders and payment, as it is we could take more orders as all we had to do was run from the kitchen to the table serving all the food. Love it.
It turns out their are a few hidden advantages to using an app for table based ordering.
Customers order more. Average basket values we're up 24%. This was down to customers having the freedom to browse the menu without the pressure of feeling the you need to deliver your order request to a waiting waiter. Typically a customer placing an app order will spend 10 - 20 minutes browsing the menu, adding to their basket that whole time
Customers re order more. We discovered a large number of mid dinner re-orders. An extra coke, a side of peas. Our customers tell us they believe this is down to customers not needing to catch the waiters eye to re-order any more. If they want a coke, they can have it in two taps
Fewer staff needed. With app based ordering, far fewer "waiter trips" are required. No need to take a menu, no need to take the order, no is their a need to take the bill and wait whilst credit cards clear.
Covid Safe. App based ordering minimises the times a Staff member and Customer will interact.
Delivery Orders. All those customers who now have the App, started to then order Delivery from the same establishment. Table Based orders meant an increase chance of a delivery order the following week
The Data. Perhaps the biggest surprise to restaurants owners was the extra customer data. Not only did they have the contact details of all their customers, they now knew what they ordered, when they ordered and what extras they'd order. This new customer insight, opened the door to tailored promotions, menu adjustments. As one client put it, you can't put a value on the data the system gives you.
We get lots of customers ordering peas, thinking its funny to make the waiter walk over for just peas, but we don't care. We've just made an extra £3.50 plus the service charge and you know have our app on your phone. Keep ordering peas!
Overall our customers we're reporting stronger revenues, higher basket sizes, customers returning more and a lower reliance on staff during peak times. A feature discovered by chance by our clients, had turned into a feature that was helping them thrive. The word soon spread and we had more Restaurants asking for our Table Service enabled app.
Conclusion, it may not be bad, in fact it may just be the exact opposite.
So as we enter into a period of new restrictions. A world where, regulation now requires table based service for restaurants. Yes their are challenges, but equally this is an opportunity to adapt to a new world. A world that puts the customer in control, where they can order in a few taps. This is a world where waiter service is less intense and its a world where both staff and customer can feel safe.
This is a world of new opportunity.
To find out more, or how a custom made app could add value to your own restaurant, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.