Digital-first restaurants are driving the rise of collaborative commerce


The following is a guest post by Brian Solis, a futurist and keynote speaker.

Mobile devices are set to play an even more crucial role in the evolution of the dining experience. In the 18 months ending August 2021, QR Code Downloads increased by 750%. Virtually overnight, restaurants replaced physical menus with QR codes, a change that industry experts say is likely permanent. However, today’s mobile experience is just the beginning. If we use our imaginations, we can go beyond basic menu static web design and create more immersive and collaborative interactions and outcomes for customers and operators throughout the culinary journey.

Like retail, the restaurant industry is accelerating digital transformation and innovation investments by leaps and bounds. New technology solutions are helping restaurants modernize and improve nearly every aspect of their operations. Over the past 12 to 24 months, technology systems have been upgraded to facilitate mobile access, on-demand reservations, delivery and pickup orders, contactless payments, digital menus and loyalty to offer a “contactless” culinary experience.

The timeline aligns with changing customer preferences and behaviors. In fact, most consumers expect mobile apps for local restaurant chains to make it easier to order (66%) and pay (61%) through the app, according to Bluedot’s fifth State of What Feeds Us report. Consumers also said they prefer self-service orders to orders placed by staff, with almost half (43%) of consumers preferring to use their mobile device to place orders.

Starbucks, for example, reported that more than a quarter of all orders in the United States are now paid for with a smartphone in the second quarter of 2021. This figure is up from 18% in the same quarter of 2020. Starbucks recently revealed that its option of mobile ordering and payment was a record 22% of all their transactions in the third quarter of 2020. Mobile ordering has also exploded across industries due to the convenience it offers.

Now we are ready for a new chapter: “collaborative commerce”.

Collaborative commerce immerses customers in the dining experience and also makes them active participants in shaping the operational experience. Beyond simply viewing a digital menu on their mobile device, restaurant apps would connect users to point-of-sale systems as well as servers to unlock user-centric services such as ordering, payments, reviews and even loyalty programs.

More digital introverts are looking for contactless experiences outside of payments

In one 2021 survey, 70% of consumers said they would rather order online than in person. It’s not a phenomenon unique to digital natives and younger diners. This behaviour is true across generations, with the same survey revealing that nearly 80% of 18-29 year olds and more than 50% of those 60 and over prefer to order online. And, when ordering digitally, 80% of consumers said they preferred using a mobile device over restaurant-provided devices. I call this emerging buyer behavior “digital introversion.”

For example, the idea of ​​”non-touch” emerged in South Korea as a digital driver to create new touchpoints in restaurant and retail experiences to limit or avoid direct contact with others. Since start of COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, the idea has evolved from a buzzword to a central government policy.

With mobile, guests and servers are synchronized partners in the dining experience

A mobile ordering platform keeps servers in sync with customer needs, allowing consumers to collaborate with restaurant while allowing staff to engage and serve with as little or as much contact as they wish.

Salesforce and Mad Mobile, for example, spear a collaborative commerce solution that allows restaurants to integrate on-site mobile ordering and payments with any point-of-sale system.

With collaborative commerce, customers see more than a menu when they scan a QR code. Once they do, an intuitive ordering experience kicks off, identifying their table location and presenting them with a dynamic menu with real-time item availability and prices.

Guest orders are sent directly to the kitchen while servers and runners are notified immediately on their respective mobile devices. The check remains open so that guests or servers can continue to add items to their order from their mobile devices or from the point of sale. When it’s time to pay, customers have the option of paying on their own device or having the server complete the payment.

Another benefit of collaborative commerce is that interactions can connect to a CRM (customer relationship management) system which then helps restaurants learn more about customers and personalize pre-, during- and post-dinner experiences. Ultimately, this can cultivate a more meaningful loyalty program.

Creative restaurants can then introduce new experiences, such as the ability to create a personalized view of menu items based on dietary restrictions, nutritional goals, favorites, wishlists, and more. With artificial intelligence abilities, Restaurants can learn about customer preferences and improve them over time. For example, when a customer returns, they can automatically receive a “welcome” text message and a prompt asking, “Do you want to see what you ordered last time?” or “Do you want to see your Wishlist or Favorites?” Over time, customers can create their profile to receive relevant communications, promotions and coupons based on their personalized preferences.

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At this stage, it is key design for a hybrid digital/physical world, because we are not back to the how we were defining customer experiences before 2020.

As restaurants struggle to attract and retain talent, collaborative commerce allows service professionals to creatively explore new ways to deliver value to their customers. With consumers taking a more active role in the dining experience, servers can eliminate more routine or mundane tasks from their jobs.

Collaborative commerce allows restaurants to invest in customer relationships and deliver more immersive experiences like never before. It may be just the boost restaurant leaders need to innovate and transform dining experiences as times, trends and tastes continue to evolve.


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