There are dozens of reasons why customers decide to stop at your quick-service restaurant (QSR) on any given day. Maybe they’re hangry or in a rush to get to their next destination. Perhaps they’re just hankering for fries and think yours are the most delicious. Then again, it could be because you heeded society’s call for more “choices” and your extensive menu is the one that can make everyone in the carpool happy, no matter how many different diets must be considered. Of course, you could just be offering the best deals right now. Most likely, your brand’s promised speed of service at least had something to do with their decision, as I touched on in my last blog.
Brands such as McDonald’s appreciate this fact and have taken great effort to adapt to the changing definition of “fast” over the years. For example, the fast food pioneer recently equipped the inside team members who take drive-thru orders with Zebra ET5x rugged tablets. These tablets synchronize order data with McDonald’s point-of-sale (POS) software, allowing restaurants to process orders faster and reduce wait times, resulting in an improved customer experience from first contact through to time of food delivery.
And many QSRs are responding to customer demands for faster service by enabling online or mobile orders. Some are even incentivizing digital ordering via lucrative rewards programs to help increase fulfillment lead times. If restaurants know what customers are going to want before they actually walk in or drive up, they can prep accordingly versus making the customer wait for the entire process to be complete. Perhaps they drop more baskets of fries or pull out the condiments and toppings for customized burger orders. Pizza places that make their dough in house can go ahead and toss the dough for an advanced order so it’s ready to go when it comes time to get the pizzas in the oven.
Digital ordering options also make it easy to deliver a highly personalized experience, which is what today’s customers expect. Online and mobile app users can set up profiles with their food order and payment preferences, as well as detailed pick-up instructions, such as the time they will be arriving at the restaurant, whether they’ll come in to grab the order, go through the drive-thru or park for curbside service. And these are just a few of the customization options that improve the overall transaction experience for restaurants and customers.
Of course, equipping all staff with mobile devices that can improve communications between front and back of house, as well as those assigned inside and outside the restaurant can help to speed up order fulfillment and improve the customer experience. The device form factor doesn’t have to be the same for all staff, nor do all communications devices have to be voice-based. Those queue-busting the drive-thru might have voice- or text-enabled tablets, while a manager inside might have a handheld mobile computer more akin to a smartphone. At the same time, counter staff might be using handheld barcode scanners to communicate a loyalty visit to the marketing database and feed insights into inventory management systems to track item utilization for improved ordering decisions.
Then again, indoor order takers – who also play a crucial role in line-busting – might be using the same 8-10 inch hardened rugged tablets as their colleagues assigned to the drive thru. Some modern tablets built for QSR-specific applications will have integrated barcode scanners and payment sleds built into the back that can be used to instantly turn the tablets into mobile POS devices that can process both loyalty rewards and payments in a matter of seconds.
In other words, the goal is to ensure that each team member has the unique technology tools they need to remain aware of what is happening in the store applicable to his or her individual role at all times. More specifically, you should ensure that your enterprise technology architecture connects every system and device in a way that allows for you to intelligently sense and analyze what’s happening within your operation and why. Otherwise it will be challenging to communicate prescribed fixes to your team in real time.
Mobile Point-of-Sale Systems Help Move People In and Out
No one likes waiting in line – any line. Therefore, line-busting must be a priority for every food service provider (and retailer), not just those with a drive-thru or drive-up service.
In fact, the Zebra’s Shopper Vision Study has consistently confirmed year after year that long checkout times are a source of frustration for customers, whether they’re standing in a supermarket on a Saturday, sitting at a table in a fast-casual setting waiting for the server to ring up their check, waiting to place a food order inside a QSR or doing some holiday shopping. Knowing that lines might be longer during peak meal times or holiday shopping periods doesn’t diffuse the situation, either. It can just stem more frustration: store managers should have known that they would be busy and either increased staffing or implemented other measures to expedite checkout, customers might say.
While you can’t read minds or predict the future, you can analyze your peak performance periods and stage staff outside in the drive-thru line with rugged tablets or at the entrance of the restaurant to take customers’ orders in person.
Bypassing the microphone-based board that is typically used for drive-thru orders can improve communications accuracy during order taking. (How many times have you had to repeat yourself because the person inside couldn’t hear you or you couldn’t hear them, prolonging the time it takes just to order?) That face-to-face interaction can make a world of difference, saving those valuable 20 seconds.
Alternatively, mobile order takers working inside can work in tandem with staff at the counter to submit tickets, reducing the burden on just one or two registers. Plus, capturing orders before customers make it to the counter or window prompts the kitchen to start cooking that much sooner. Customers might be surprised at how fast their food comes out.
Installing kiosks in QSRs works in a similar manner and can quite successfully eliminate long lines to order or pay at both counter-service and table-service restaurants.
Of course, allowing for QR code or barcode-scanning of a customer’s in-app loyalty account at every POS can cut out the several steps – and seconds – it might otherwise take to scan coupons and/or payment cards. All applicable offers and payments can be processed at once as long as the customer has a payment option setup. (Bonus: mobile payments can also improve PCI compliance.)
It’s time for quick-service and fast casual restaurants, convenience stores and, well, anyone delivering a product or service in person to do what they can to give customers “more, more, more” and “fast, fast, fast.” In the back office, that likely means investigating your technology options and investing in only those solutions that have proven to increase the speed and quality of services such as the ones you provide. In the front of house, that means training your staff on how to maximize the technology tools at their disposal so that they can maximize the return on your investment and deliver a customer experience that will result in return visits.
But these aren’t the only approaches. Since there are multiple techniques and technologies that could be utilized to increase the speed, accuracy and quality of your service, it may take some time to evaluate all of your options. (This guide might be able to help.)
Just be sure that whatever digital technologies you ultimately implement enable you to fully sense, analyze and act on the various issues that lead to order fulfillment slowdowns. And don’t forget, your mobile device is only beneficial if it has the capacity to power through long, busy shifts. Consider extended life batteries for your tablets or swappable power sources such as the battery-free PowerCap™ capacitor for your 1D/2D barcode scanners to keep your mobility tools up, running and in the hands of your front-line team members responsible for driving order fulfillment.
Consumers are clamoring for brands to give them what they want, literally right now (remember, seconds matter). If you can’t meet those expectations, they will go elsewhere – and that lost business could end up costing you far more than what you would spend to retain that business.
So, if you’re committed to accelerating growth in the high velocity, hyper-competitive and super fickle society we live in, let’s talk. Our team has seen it all and will be able to help you find the right technology-based solutions to your unique business challenges based on the best practices shared above and other lessons we’ve learned from working with brands such as McDonald’s.