Without a doubt, the restaurant industry is getting more crowded and competitive all the time. Consider, for example, entire concepts being launched exclusively in delivery apps, with orders prepared in ghost kitchens. Stand-out brands need to continually be forward-thinking to not only compete but also accommodate the constantly changing wants and needs of customers. In the spotlight lately: a race to differentiate on service, and its focus: point-of-service.
It’s time for point-of-service to catch up with point-of-ordering, and the companies that do this well will win stomachs, hearts, minds and market share.
We have “Star Trek” ordering while our point-of-service model is a relic.
Over the last several years, quick service restaurants (QSRs) have moved beyond the terminal, offering an amazing array of Star-Trek-like ordering and payment channels. Consider:
- Web and smartphone app ordering have become commonplace.
- Speak your order to Alexa, and your food will be delivered to your doorstep.
- For that matter, this Artificial Intelligence-enabled voice assistant technology may power your next order via any number of ordering channels: at the drive-thru, via your favorite restaurant’s app or website, or voice call. Welcome to the Voice Economy.
- In-store self-serve kiosks and line-busting tablets help keep counter service lines moving.
- At least one concept store is using experimental robots to answer guest questions and make food and beverage recommendations.
Apart from the relatively recent advent of home delivery, however, we’re still using point-of-service models that are decades old.
Take a glance through history and you’ll see that things are pretty much the same today as they were 60 or 70 years ago:
- The walk-up quick-serve counter begun by the McDonald brothers led to…
- QSRs with snaking lines of customers waiting to place (and then pick up) their order. Sound familiar?
- The drive-in, with food delivered to your car window by carhops wearing roller skates was followed by…
- Drive-thru, invented in the mid-1940s but not made widely popular until the 1970s.
The changing face of customers demands a revolution in point-of-service. (Hint: Home delivery is just a start.)
Why will the next revolution in the QSR/fast casual segments be at the point-of-service? For one thing, the children of this generation of customers that prefers to order from their phone or by voice command will come to expect different types – and levels – of service and convenience. You’ve undoubtedly seen industry trend reports on dining out, home delivery, etc. With customers changing loyalty at the drop of a bun, today’s ‘possible’ becomes tomorrow’s expectation. Therefore, we need to be ready to make the point-of-service anything the customer wants it to be. And home delivery is just the beginning.
Want to get an edge on market share? Boldly go where no one has gone before.
Let’s throw off yesterday’s preconceived ideas about store design and customer service for a moment. The counter with its monolithic terminal? Forget it for a moment. If you could design your customer interaction from scratch, what would your restaurant look like?
Why even have a point-of-service counter and terminal? Why not have a centrally located kitchen surrounded by serving stations or pick-up windows? Since such a store would no longer need the winding queue, you could turn the queue-up space into additional seating.
Give people the option to order from a tablet computer located right at their table. The interactive experience could provide opportunity for up-sell, and even report rewards points status in case they wanted to spend just a bit more to achieve the next rewards level. The ordering tablet could provide a countdown and notify the customer when their order was ready for pickup. The same model could be used for orders placed via an app on the customer’s smartphone.
Who will be the big, bold thinkers that win the point-of-service race?
What about taking delivery to a whole new level? What if your kitchen could travel to a particular neighborhood or business district on wheels, serving walk-up customers and/or filling orders delivered to nearby homes and businesses by swarms of delivery drivers using electric cars or scooters?
Forward-thinking brands are already imagining just such a future. Who wouldn’t want their Domino’s pizza delivered by a robot named Dru?
The trip to the next galaxy begins with the next step.
Maybe you need to start smaller, due to existing capital investments, budgets, etc. But you can still win loyalty based on differentiated experiences by making incremental changes. The great thing is that today, we have the technology and the ability to boldly remake the point-of-service, but it’s flexible enough to start as small as you need to. Perhaps you could add mobile ordering and a drive-thru window dedicated to mobile orders and delivery service pickup. The additional volume could increase sales, and the faster service would boost satisfaction and loyalty. Stores that have tried this model have already proven it works.
We live in an exciting time as brands push hard to keep ahead of consumer expectations with regard to flavor, service, and experience.
As consumer expectations continue to change and the industry re-imagines itself, companies that lead the way with innovation in point-of-service will come out ahead.