Sales or Service! Is there a path for both?

For generations of restaurant leaders and operators we have exalted the belief that service matters, that service is the one thing that can ensure customers come back again and again.  As a long time operations leader in Fast Casual restaurants, almost every sales building plan also included initiatives that focused on improving the service experience.  Why? Because inherently we all understand that our business has and will always be about relationships, not just transactions. 

We continue to look in every direction to find solutions to improve our sales, but in many cases it comes at the expense of a great service experience.  I say this in context of how restaurant companies have forsaken service to third party platforms in the name of more exposure, more sales, but generally at the expense of the customer experience and more certainly at the expense of creating a relationship.

Is it true that a customer can have a great experience through a third party ordering platform?  Sure of course, that is bound to happen, but the scary part is you have no control over when or how often it happens.  When it does not happen it almost always reflects badly on the restaurant.

What has happened with the proliferation of third-party vendors is that we have forsaken the relationship with our customers, in turn they are now just a transaction.  We can still differentiate our brand through our food offerings, our execution and quality, but we have lost the other half of what allows us to differentiate our brand from others, our people, the training and care we put into ensuring they can deliver a great experience.

Is the path to increased sales still service, assuming food quality and selection is desirable?  I believe it is and always will be, it’s the nature of what makes restaurants an experience vs. a transaction, and we are in the business of creating experiences, or at least the creation of positive experiences is what differentiates and bonds our brand and food to our customers.

So how do we grow sales and provide service in an environment filled with a perceived and actual need to use third party ordering and delivery services?

1.       Create a digital experience that is on par with third party vendors.  Many restaurants may not have the resources to compete at the same level but surprisingly there are many inexpensive resources and experts that can help without incurring the hiring of someone to your team.

a.       Proprietary online ordering for your menu

  • Get as many features as you can afford, group ordering, polished interface, curbside, delivery management, kiosk, loyalty, marketing features.

b.       Hire a professional digital marketing agency or invest in creating your own.  Promotion to online digital channels is vital, doing it well is now mandatory.  Don’t forget the need for strong photography and storytelling.

2.       Develop Self Delivery.  Yes, this creates extra work and responsibilities, liabilities and added complication.  When done well, it also adds incredible value in creating and maintaining relationships. Finally, there are many other benefits that can be gained through increased marketing by delivery people and benefits for your employees in higher wages and retention.

3.       Centralize service interaction points.  This seems obvious in many ways, what is a better experience?  Hurried in store employees trying to answer the phone that may or may not be well trained vs. a dedicated centralized trained person sitting in a quite and dedicated space to handle calls?  The cost vs benefit impact of dedicated team members is actually very positive.  I have routinely seen immediate order and sales increases once implemented. You will not even believe how many calls never get picked up at the restaurant.

If service and relationships are really the key to growing sales, then reliance on third party is not the answer, owning your customers, that relationship and the data they bring from each transaction is the key.

For help with choosing and setting up menus for online ordering, crating self delivery programs or centralizing your order interactions contact me at bill@catercult.com.


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