The Menu – the latest insights on restaurant technology trends, customer successes, and best practices.

What it Really Means to Engage Your Restaurant Customers

Keshav Kiran
Senior Director, Global Strategic Partnerships, Oracle Food and Beverage

All restaurateurs want to engage their guests, but they often view such action narrowly as marketing special offers or enrolling them in loyalty programs.

But the true definition of customer engagement actually is much broader: It’s any positive communication – through various channels – between a customer and your restaurant.

And the more you approach it holistically, the more likely you’ll prosper.

Restaurants typically focus on providing the best ambiance and food, but they also should incorporate customer engagement into everything they do. Why? Customers have a choice of where they spend their money on dining. To win your fair share, it’s essential they feel a connection to your brand. Fully engaged customers are good for business and can become influential advocates: They represent a 23 percent share of profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer, according to global analytics and advice firm, Gallup.

One point to remember about customer engagement is that it should be a “two-way street.” In other words, cater all that you do to provide guests with benefits they can immediately realize – and make it virtually effortless for them to provide feedback. That ensures you can refine their dining experience to their tastes even more. Customers want to become true fans of your restaurant. Give them that opportunity.

What should drive customer engagement is a desire to provide guests with convenience, self-service, and personalization, which numerous studies show are the benefits they covet most. Keep in mind, they may enjoy having a conversation with their neighborhood barista every morning, but what they would love more is being able to order ahead of time – or having their regular order remembered.

That’s where restaurant POS technology plays a vital role. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report: “For some restaurant customers, technology is an added convenience. For others, it’s a point of differentiation that can sway their choice of restaurants.” Letting customers order and pay when they want and how they want are among the keys to truly engaging them and winning their loyalty. Among some of the NRA’s findings:

  • Six in 10 adults – including three in four millennials – say being able to view a menu online makes them more likely to choose one restaurant over another.
  • Forty-one percent of consumers – including 55 percent of millennials – say the availability of online POS system ordering makes them more likely to choose one restaurant over another.
  • Roughly half – including more than six in 10 millennials – say they would like restaurants to use technology to make ordering and payment easier.

Again, it can’t be emphasized enough that customer engagement spans many levels. Restaurant loyalty programs might help boost customer engagement, but they don’t make for a complete program. An effective effort is an omnichannel initiative that encompasses every touchpoint a customer has with your brand: how they discover your business, reserve a table, place an order, interact with your staff, receive and pay a bill, and review and recommend your restaurant.

For example, a question – such as “How was your experience?” – can be displayed on a pay-at-table device, weaving information-gathering into the dining experience. Offering self-service kiosks also makes it simple to record customer preferences, not to mention reducing wait time for guests and easing rush-hour pressure on counter staff.

Engaging customers can take other forms as well – and generate unexpected benefits for your restaurant business. Nothing may illustrate this better than encouraging guests to engage via social media.

“When customers eat in your restaurant, they’re collecting information ready to share with their network. This might be an Instagram of their meal, a tweet or a Tripadvisor review,” according to an article by TINT. Restaurateurs can start a competition to spur guests to tweet or Instagram their food, which you can then use and share to promote your business. This experience also can be recreated within the restaurant itself with the use of social media walls, which project customers’ content as they create it.

The common theme in all these approaches? They each provide guests an opportunity to connect with your restaurant, making their experiences as enjoyable as the food they eat.

That’s what we call engagement.


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