As the first earth-shaking pandemic of the 21st century puts all businesses on dangerous footing, the timing of major breakthroughs in scalability and digital POS solutions make this a time of make-or-break opportunity for players in the order-to-eat (OTE) category.
The March 2020 Order To Eat Tracker®, a PYMNTS and Paytronix collaboration, is packed with innovation news bringing an early thaw to Q1. Viewed in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic that broke out as the report was being compiled and readied for publication, order-to-eat operators that were already obsessed with how to scale now find themselves helping to feed populations that have been told (in some cases officially) to shelter in place, and even order in.
Financial forecasts for quick service restaurant (QSR) and fast-casual eateries are no doubt undergoing major rolling revisions as the unprecedented event unfolds. Certainly, it’s clear from reading the March 2020 Order To Eat Tracker® that chains and indies that are prepped with scalable QA in the kitchen and smart POS at checkout are well positioned for this crisis.
Tech Stacks for Snacks
Prior to any outbreaks, national emergencies or zombie plagues, the restaurant space is no place for lightweights, “…as these operations face slim profit margins of 3 percent to 5 percent, on average …” the report states, which means “… some eateries are therefore looking to digital technologies to get the most impact out of each customer visit.”
To maximize customer value one order at a time, operators are integrating enhanced point-of-sale systems and features that cut overhead while and stimulate loyalty.
“Waitstaff can use digital POS devices to accept payments at the table, too, saving them from having to make multiple trips to ask diners if the bill is needed, return with it, accept payment cards and return them to the table,” the report states. “This more streamlined workflow can remove undesirable time lags, building loyalty, and some POS terminals even let diners split bills and pay with digital wallets or contactless cards for more convenient experiences.”
The latest Order To Eat Tracker® details pilots and programs from front-of-house handheld scanners that scrap paper orders entirely, to fully integrated systems with tipping options built-into mobile POS devices that reduce trips the register and keeps waitstaff engaged with customers.
“Restaurants operate in a competitive market and adopting the right kinds of technology-powered services can help them stand out,” the report states. “The industry’s low profit margins make it all the more important that these businesses carefully choose their digital investments to ensure maximum impact. POS tools that provide faster, more accurate order acceptance and software to help manage and track menus can be key places to start — and help eateries keep up with consumers’ demands.”
“Sous vide” Indeed
On the more delicious end of the order-to-eat sector is the actual eating, and tech savvy restaurateurs with are using clever technology to quality-test all those ordered meals.
In the March Order To Eat Tracker® PYMNTS spoke with Anjou Ahlborn, founder of Japanese, Indian and Vietnamese-focused fast causal chain Bamboo Asia, and CEO and owner, Sebastiaan van de Rijt. They confronted a quality issue with a smart solution, and it scaled beautifully.
Sous vide precooks sealed ingredients in water so they are never overcooked and arrive fresh at kitchens for final prep into orders. The costs of “… handling intensive meal preparation at a central kitchen makes it easier for restaurants to scale,” the report states. “Each customer-facing location only needs to be able to quickly heat the meals, reducing floorspace requirements and the demand for expensive equipment.
“We don’t have to build kitchen ventilation, grease receptors [or] underground plumbing,” Ahlborn told PYMNTS. “In addition, the way we’re [primarily] cooking the food off-site makes us very attractive to landlords.” Bamboo Asia’s commercial kitchen is a 10,000-square-foot operation that can support catering orders alongside those from its 12 customer-facing San Francisco locations. Each of those is 250 square feet and serves 1,000 people per day.