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Are QR code ordering systems the solution to hospitality challenges?

Are QR code ordering systems the solution to hospitality challenges?

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Posted January 5, 2023
Food Premises, Ramblings

Seven ways to help elevate your customers’ experience

While we are taking a break here at RG Strategic, it has allowed me to catch up on some reading, including the “What’s Happening in Hospo? Top Trends 2023” from Yesterday (another player in the self-service ordering and front-of-house management system solutions) that came across my desk. It’s one of these lead generation documents for their product that we see a lot of.

The report identifies seven trends for 2023, which we outline below. We take a closer look at those drivers and then list seven ways we have identified to improve the customer experience if using QR code ordering systems.

The seven trends reported were:

  • increase in American influence on bar culture;
  • growing appetite for craft beers;
  • the persistence of the non-alcohol market;
  • new service delivery models;
  • increased demand for vegan food;
  • the importance of your social presence; and
  • the growing impact of the gig economy.

While nothing is groundbreaking in that list – these ‘trends’ have certainly been on the radar for the past few years – what struck me as interesting was a highlighted statistic on page six of the report.

“45% of Australian customers say they prefer digital payment options like smart pay, contactless pay and QR codes.”

First and foremost, there is no reference to the research where this stat comes from, but why, if you are a company whose product is mentioned in the statistic, would you list it? What it really says is that 55% of customers don’t prefer it. Why would any venue want to antagonise over half of its prospective audience?

In any case, if you are considering implementing such a system, or you already have, we’d be interested in your thoughts on our quick musings below.

Now we are told there are many drivers for why a venue may choose to use QR code ordering – where people scan a QR code and order off your menu via an app at their table. You need to consider each of those drivers carefully and if they genuinely will deliver what you expect.

QR code ordering drives convenience for their customers

Though it seems from the statistic listed that most customers don’t prefer that convenience, there is undoubtedly a type of establishment where this type of ordering could be expected and where it makes sense. Think anything in the fast food genre.

But if we look at hospitality offerings like a spectrum, with fast food at one end and fine dining at the other, there is certainly a threshold somewhere along that spectrum where expected convenience turns into unexpected dismay at the reduction in personalised service.

So a venue really needs to consider its audience and its offering and determine if this kind of ordering system is a good fit for who and what they are trying to be.

Contactless payment

Contactless payment can be made at any stage of the dining experience, whether at the beginning at the counter, via a QR code app, or at the end of the meal using pay wave to settle the bill. As such, this isn’t a big driver for us. We recognise that it may be best for the venue to have patrons pay for their food and drink upfront rather than wait until the end.

Reduced labour costs

This is a big one. We are going through tough recruitment times with many venues struggling to find staff, let alone confident, experienced team members that can deliver on your brand promise. We can understand this and rate this as the most significant driver at the moment.

But think about this.

Do you think these ordering systems will disappear when the labour shortage disappears, and we return to somewhat normal times? I don’t, either. And that is when we have to ask ourselves whether our customers are getting extra personalised attention and a better experience, or are we just trying to reduce costs?

Increased efficiency

Can we call this what it is? It’s moving the task of taking an order on to the customer. While some people may prefer this, meaning they don’t have to wait for a server to attend their table, it removes one of the most personal interactions the customer will have with the venue and reduces the ability to create a relationship and build loyalty.

Some providers tout that allowing people to order the moment they sit down via a QR code enables quicker and higher turnover of tables and customers.

From personal experience, I have noted that in venues that offer QR code ordering and bar service, there is often a delay in the QR code order over those ordering at the counter.

I have since been informed that the systems used hold the order for a time before delivering it to a terminal for staff to action, meaning there is a measurable delay. That is different from the expected experience of increased efficiency.

Another problem arises when you are in a group setting, for instance. If the boss is shouting and ordering via their phone, they have suddenly been reduced to taking everyone’s order or handing around their phone for people to use. Again, is this the experience your venue wants to deliver?

App ordering increases average spend

This driver does have some backing. We have come across research that supports increased spending of up to 30% just by adding quality photos of menu items. Making it easy to tick additions to the initial order, like sides or toppers, also helps increase spend. An increase in spend by 30% is nothing to sneeze at, but we still think you need to weigh up any gains with any negatives associated with these systems.

The future

Having said all that, we understand that QR code ordering systems are here to stay. Some venues we know that have chosen this option are reporting over 60% uptake from their customers. Systems like this that support images and descriptions help overcome ordering anxiety, increase customer confidence, and hopefully increase loyalty and visitation in the long run.

So if you are or have introduced these systems, ensure you get the most out of them. We’ve spoken to several operators in the industry, and here are their recommendations for building the best service experience with QR codes:

  1. Keep physical menus. Everybody wants a menu to read off – the kids, grandma, the partner – even if they are not the ones ordering.
  2. Invest in your host. Ensure your venue manager can operate the room and has the confidence and experience to deliver the personal service your customers expect, even if they are ordering via a phone app.
  3. Spend time populating your app menu correctly and in detail. Pay attention to allergy items, vegetarian or vegan options, gluten-free options, upsells and modifications like “no ice” or “extra ice”. If your customer has to ask for an item, addition or modification physically, the population of your QR code table ordering system is not good enough.
  4. Ensure your chosen ordering system can cater to everything you want to deliver. Ensure your team is empowered to make changes to the system when they recognise additions or improvements to the menu items and options that need to be made.
  5. Invest in quality photography of your menu items and try to imbue them with your venue brand or persona.
  6. If your system allows, enable it to do takeaway orders or pre-orders to improve efficiencies and convenience. This can help you expand your revenue streams.
  7. Where possible, offer both table service and QR code ordering and craft your host’s introduction to highlight the options to make it easy and comfortable for patrons to make their own choice.

Finally

We have a right to be sceptical of the promises of QR codes and how their implementation will affect our patrons. Much of the research and “anecdotal” evidence is being spruiked by the providers of these systems themselves.

As always, investigate your options, and if you choose to take up this type of system, consider how you can make it yours. How can you ensure that the experience you want people to have in your restaurant or venue, including the ambience and atmosphere, can be reflected in the app you force your customers to open at their table?

I think this will be the next challenge for these tech companies – delivering a customised offering for each venue rather than their current cookie-cutter approach.

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