Blog Post / April 25, 2020 / Best Practices

Navigating a Contactless Post-COVID World: 4 Things Operators Should Consider as They Build A Reopening Strategy

by Bianca McLaren
Bianca McLaren

When COVID-19 hit the world, it shut down restaurants and bars, obliterated hotel occupancy rates and decimated the global economy, fundamentally changing the way people interact with each other and within their communities. As the country awaits reopening dates from local governments, one this is certain -- our post-COVID-19 world will usher in a new era of hospitality. From the need for contactless ordering and payment options, to new ways to eliminate crowded waiting areas, operators across the country are thinking about how they will reopen and adapt to meet the needs of a changed consumer.

From our work with operators across the country and world, we’ve outlined four key themes we’ll dive into below, including:

  1. Why a focus on your operational tech stack today will help you make better data-driven decisions in the future 
  2. What you should be thinking about as you go contactless inside and outside the dining room 
  3. How marketing automation can help you do more upon reopening with less staff and financial resources
  4. Why direct is best, and how you can prioritize owning your guest relationships

There’s no time like the present to get your reopening strategy ready.

Revisiting Your Operations Tech Stack: Prioritizing Data-Driven Platforms 

Knowing the impact of COVID-19 will be felt for months to come, reopening your property will not be without challenges. In fact, many operators will need to open their businesses with less staff in the short term as they work to rebuild a viable financial model at their restaurant. This means that, more than ever, the types of technology you have in your stack will make a meaningful difference in your business. And with 95% of restaurant owners agreeing that technology improves business efficiency, there’s no time like the present to sort out what technology is working, and what’s not.

So why is technology important to consider now?

As you go through this process pre-reopening, you should ask yourself the following questions about your tech stack:

Every technology within your restaurant should help you cut down on time spent on admin tasks by doing the work of several employees. In fact, with fewer employees, you may no longer have the time to manage and maximize the full capabilities of everything you’re paying for. With money tighter than ever coming out of COVID-19, you should reflect on whether or not the platform is mission-critical for you to run your business. Think about prioritizing your CRM, POS and inventory management systems -- which track guest data, help you generate revenue and give you tools to manage costs. These systems should give you immediate access to data that is easy to understand and execute on across your business.

Going Contactless: Serving Guests Inside & Outside The Dining Room

COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear overnight and, unfortunately, it might not be the last pandemic we face in the coming years. With guests craving interactions that are familiar and personalized, yet contactless and focused on their health and safety, operators will have their hands full when dining rooms reopen. Below are key capabilities your restaurant should be prepared to implement in a contactless, post-pandemic world, including:

contactless paymentsBut that’s not all. With these changes, especially as guests shake off their fears of being in a crowded dining room with other people, there is a huge opportunity for operators to bring new and improved offerings to their customers outside of the in-service experience.

A fully-contactless in-service experience is the first step in a comprehensive reopening strategy. However, you can’t overlook other potential revenue opportunities. Think about ways you can engage guests in the digital sphere, from online tasting classes to DIY food kits to branded merchandise. Creating new revenue streams is a simple way to proof your business against future in-store closures.

Smart Marketing: Doing More With Less

As you take time away from your business due to mandated closures, now is the time to prioritize your marketing efforts so you can come back with a bang. A strong marketing plan is going to be crucial to help you stand out and win diners by communicating what’s changed at your property -- from how you’re keeping your restaurant clean to adjusting your operations to more contactless offerings. With a focus on profitability, a ‘direct is best’ marketing strategy is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity in keeping your restaurant in business.

To start, take a quick inventory of your online presence, making sure you have clear Call to Action buttons across your website (e.g. RESERVE or ORDER NOW), in addition to the most up-to-date information about your restaurant and its offerings. These small changes all help with making your business more discoverable on Google, and thus, more likely to be found by customers. You should also ensure that you are putting your direct booking links across any channels your guests are looking for you -- like Instagram, Facebook, Google and more. This helps you take control over your online presence, driving customers to direct booking links versus a third party website.

PRO TIP: Learn more about how you can place direct reservation and direct delivery links across your owned channels via these handy guides. 

As we’ve discussed, the second step is to make sure you have the right technology in place to execute on a robust marketing strategy, even with less staff and more responsibility. As with any successful marketing program, automation is key in helping you convert guests and drive profits. In fact, a recent study showed that marketing automation drives an up to 14.5% increase in sales productivity, and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead. Those are significant numbers that can add up quickly when marketing automation is implemented correctly.

This means encouraging your guests to go direct -- whether that’s for dining in or ordering out -- so you can capture the data necessary to execute automated marketing for your restaurant. Having the right tools in place to capture guest data means increased access to information that will help you drive engagement and improve ROI.

This marketing platform should provide you with:

Direct Is Best: Owning Your Guest Relationships 

Owning a direct relationship with your guests has never been more important. When you have the tools in place to foster a direct guest relationship, you’re guaranteeing increased loyalty and revenue in the long term. Most importantly, a direct guest relationship helps safeguard your business against third-party marketplaces that seek to own the end-to-end relationship with your guests.

Through the COVID-19 crisis, third party marketplaces -- both on the reservations and delivery side -- have shown their true colors, maximizing profits at the expense of operators. Though they have the potential to bring a significant increase in orders or reservations, to the tune of $10.2 billion in third-party delivery orders in 2018 alone, it comes at the cost of not owning those customer relationships. Coming out on the other end of this public health crisis, they will continue to focus on increasing profits to benefit shareholders. So where does that leave you?

By putting technology in place now, you can ensure ownership of all your direct channels, taking the first step in having complete control over your guest relationships -- regardless of whether they’re booking a future reservation or ordering delivery from the comfort of their own home. This means a fully direct digital storefront, enabling you to capture information on your guests, whether that guest journey leads them to an in-service experience or a contactless meal on their couch. This direct digital offering should be put across every channel your guests are visiting, including your website, social media channels, and search engines like Google. The more places you can control the guest experience, the better you’ll be set up to own that relationship for the long term.

Whether in two weeks or two months, businesses will be able to reopen as we come out the other side of this health crisis. Though there will be significant consumer demand, it will be tempered with fear over being in crowded spaces, like a restaurant or bar. By getting in front of your reopening strategy now, you’ll be better prepared when the time comes.

To book a reopening strategy consultation, request a meeting with a SevenRooms representative. For more information on what you can be doing today to minimize the impact of COVID-19 at your restaurant, read our latest blog.

About the Author

Bianca McLaren

Bianca McLaren is the Senior Manager, Brand Marketing at SevenRooms, where she heads up brand awareness, communications and event programming. Based at New York HQ, she's always on the hunt for the best sushi in the city.

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