It’s that time of year when restaurants must shine and make some serious scratch. We are not just talking about the holiday season in general, but the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebrations, where fancy toasts are made over plates of good food among close friends and family members.
We at PYMNTS are as festive as anyone else, and that’s why Karen Webster recently caught up with Andrew Robbins, co-founder and president at Paytronix, which sells digital ordering and guest engagement technology for restaurants. That business gives Robbins an insider’s view into how restaurants can thrive during the New Year’s Eve rush, and how the big restaurant trends will play out as 2019 segues into 2020 — and beyond.
New Year’s Eve seems like a simple concept. However, for the restaurant business, it’s more complicated than most people realize, at least from Robbins’ telling. He described to Webster four main ways to celebrate: celebrations together, private celebrations, celebrations at home, and what amounts to pit stops on the way to other parties and engagements.
“Sometimes, people are grabbing a quick bite to eat on their way to somewhere else,” he said.
The trick for restaurants is to get some benefit from as many of those types of celebrations as possible. After all, the stakes are enormous. Robbins, using Paytronix data as a foundation, said that many consumers turn into big spenders come New Year’s Eve.
“What we find is that there are bigger orders,” he told Webster. Indeed, restaurant orders that would typically be $75 or more during most other times of the year can almost triple in value during New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Customers also tend to place more advance orders. “Bigger orders tend to be advance orders,” he added. On the outs, it seems, are the days of homemade deli plates with triangular slices of bologna and salami — people who host parties at home often strive to impress their guests with big advance orders from restaurants.
Yet, woe to any restaurant that cannot get that food ready in time. Robbins said that restaurants need to assure anxious customers around New Year’s Eve that staffing levels will be sufficient to fulfill orders on time, and perhaps even offer guarantees for big advance orders placed within a reasonable time frame — say, two days out. “In marketing messages, you can provide assurance that ‘we are there for you,’” he explained.
That’s hardly all that restaurants can do, and are doing, he told PYMNTS. Special menus and seasonal features, such as champagne flights, are often good ways to get guests to make reservations and honor them — so are deposits, though Robbins noted that they are relatively rare for parties of less than eight to 10 diners.
“A countdown timer in messages is a wonderful tactic to use,” he said about drumming up excitement for reservations. “Loyalty and reservations can be tied together.” One potential example of that? Use a loyalty offering and reservation system to enable restaurant guests to be greeted by the chef.
Ordering And Guest-Engagement Trends
Ordering and guest engagement, of course, are not just for New Year’s Eve. They are big trends for 2019 that promise to get even bigger in 2020, and for all types of restaurants, whether fancy enough for New Year’s Eve or not.
Domino’s, for instance, might not be a white-tablecloth type of place, but it is a big part of many year-end celebrations — and it’s helping to blaze new paths in restaurant loyalty, as PYMNTS research has documented. The chain has invested in voice-based solutions to connect with consumers, as well as a wide range of solutions that include mobile apps, a new loyalty program and even self-driving delivery vehicles. In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Christopher Thomas-Moore, vice president of global eCommerce and digital marketing for Domino’s, explained how a broad technology portfolio and loyalty program help the company to focus on “meeting customers where they are, and where they’re comfortable.”
However, the story for New Year’s Eve is about much more than bringing in the new year. It’s about reaching and motivating guests to choose a celebration destination, as Robbins explained when talking about a Florida sports bar — a Paytronix client. The bar uses technology to tap into, what he called, a loose group of friends and invite them to the big holiday celebration. The sports bar can identify its best guests, and give them access to a celebration they could only access having earned a top-level membership tier. Such moves represent the shift away from analog processes to tech for restaurants and pubs.
“Today, we have the ability to reach customers where they are, regardless of whether they’re at home thinking about the holiday, on their way out the door or somewhere in between. It’s up to us to use all this technology to make relationships stronger, and to add the human touch,” he said.
That might be the real message of this New Year’s Eve for restaurants. Welcome to the warmer embrace of digital and mobile technology.