February 15th, 2021

Restaurants Increase Customer Satisfaction During COVID

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants, Technology

Restaurant Business May be Down, but Customer Satisfaction is Up

Customer satisfaction

Even through these hard times, it’s great to see that restaurants are succeeding at increasing customer satisfaction during COVID. Recently, Black Box Intelligence™, a data and insights provider for the hospitality industry, released a study showing showcasing this.

Here are some of the main takeaways.

Restaurants Show Increased Customer Satisfaction During COVID

The Hard Facts

Customer satisfaction

Fourth quarter of 2020 was no friend to most restaurant businesses. In fact, by December, overall same-store sales growth had dropped -13.3% year-over-year. Traffic growth also fell to -18.6%.

Reasons for the downturn include spiking COVID-19 rates, colder weather, and tighter dining restrictions. In some states, like California, on-premises dining was banned completely for a time, which clearly weighs heavy on these statistics.

It’s also difficult to build consumer trust right now. Restaurants are leveraging social media technology to communicate with diners and humanize the business, but that can only go so far. Without the ability to greet and court customers in person, it’s an uphill battle.

The Bright Spots

 

Pizza Restaurants

But, if there’s a glimpse of sunshine in all of that dark data, it’s this: Black Box Intelligence™ suggests restaurants were able to raise their positive brand sentiment in December.

Without ambience as a focal point for customer satisfaction, the focus has shifted to safety and cleanliness, which has been a priority among restaurants.

Also, not only did brand sentiment increase, but so did positive perceptions of food and service. In fact, 50% of mentions and online reviews spoke of the food received from restaurants in a positive light. This is great news for those F&B businesses working to adapt to the new style of dining.

Who’s Coming Out on Top?

Quick Service

The driver behind the sentiment increases were mainly seen in limited (quick) service restaurants. Quick-service foods tend to withstand the perils of food transport better and the concepts are often built around the convenience and flexibility of ordering.

Many limited-service restaurants were already accustomed to online, drive-through, or window orders, which made the adaptation much easier.

Even more, customers have now come to expect digital ordering technology from restaurants.

According to the Black Box Intelligence™ study, 1 in 4 customers would choose a restaurant that has app-based ordering over another without. For now, the tech is an edge, but soon it will be the expectation.

Other Insights

Interestingly, value was much less important to customers, in relation to satisfaction at least, than safety and food quality. However, that doesn’t mean value isn’t important, just not top of mind for consumers currently.

Value is a tentpole of earning return customers, so it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. But the takeaway here is this: Make high quality food that’s easy to access and provided in a safe environment, then worry about the value. This hierarchy of importance will ensure consistent consumer traffic to the extent COVID will allow.

What About the Future?

on-premises-dining

With all that being said, 64% of consumers would still prefer a traditional dining experience.

Consumers are adapting to the situation at hand, yet they still yearn for the normalcy of past years. Once socialization returns to a new normal, it’s expected that the restaurant experience will draw folks back into dining rooms.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know when this will happen. Therefore, it will be important to the success of restaurants to adapt to the current landscape in order to make it back to profitability.

However, keep in mind; in-house it will likely not return to pre-pandemic levels. At least not anytime soon. Therefore, having technology, off-premises dining solutions, and safety practices in place will help create a holistic method of success which will drive restaurants of the future.

We’ll Get Through This

Yes, there’s bad news here, but there’s also good news, also. Consumers love their restaurants, and they want them to succeed. Even in hard times, they are willing to spend their money on restaurant food. By making it more accessible, it will ensure they consumers will keep supporting restaurants. This reciprocal relationship is the bedrock of ensuring the future of our beloved food and beverage industry.

Source

-Black Box Intelligence. “Restaurants succeed in raising guest sentiment in December, despite downturn in sales and traffic.” January 20, 2021. Accessed January 21, 2o21. https://www.nrn.com/finance/restaurants-succeed-raising-guest-sentiment-december-despite-downturn-sales-and-traffic

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August 26th, 2019

AI Technology Driving Efficiency in Fast Food

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants, Technology

AI Technology shows strength in fast food testing

AI Technology in Restaurants

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

AI technology has been a conversation starter for some time now. In most cases, it’s in the format of “someday,” or “won’t it be crazy when…?”

Well it looks like that “when” is now. With impressive advances in AI technology over the last couple of years, companies have begun testing in different markets. One of the most popular platforms to test AI technology is currently in fast food restaurants.

Let’s look at how AI is changing the way we interact with food.

AI Technology in Food Service

As of now, four major players in the fast food arena (McDonald’s, Good Times, Chipotle, and Sonic) are either testing or in the process of implementing AI technology into their restaurants. But it’s not in the format one might expect.

AI Technology Fast Food

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

Instead of using the tech for cooking, packaging, or other labor-based skills, it’s being utilized in so-called “soft-skills,” specifically order taking. This use is why this type of AI is dubbed “conversational AI.”

How is Conversational AI Being Used?

Good Times is focusing on using this technology in drive through windows. Its system, lovingly named “Holly,” has shown to be very adept at her job. In the six months of her operation, Holly has reduced customer wait time by seven seconds and her intuitive up-selling has shown a measurable increase in check averages.

AI Technology

Photo courtesy of hospitalitytech.com

Chipotle has found success with their intuitive telephone ordering technology while Sonic begins testing on their drive through system this year. McDonald’s, however, is showing an aggressive push with a slightly different tech. By the end of this year they will have increased the implementation of their AI driven interactive menu boards from 700 to 8,000 restaurants nationwide. The biggest difference in their system is that the boards are not voice operated, but intuitive based on the customers choices.

What’s the Benefit of AI Technology?

The push for AI is coming from the operators’ need to:

  1. Decrease labor turnover
  2. Increase speed of service
  3. Increase accuracy
  4. Allow employees to focus on food quality

By letting AI systems take over ordering and basic customer service functions, employees are freed up to focus on food quality and speed of service. As of now the companies claim that the tech will not replace human employees, instead, it will help them do their jobs better.

There are some additional benefits of AI. It does not get tired, or angry, or sick. Its accuracy is nearly flawless, and is always “friendly,” even when being yelled at.

Limitations

AI in Fast Food

Photo courtesy of engadget.com

At this point some kinks are still being worked out. It’s incredibly important that the technology can actually understand the customer. Therefore, the speech detection portion of the software is absolutely crucial. Regional dialects and accents can add other variables. The adaptive learning portion of the program is essential in overcoming these limitations.

Fail safes have been implemented to help in some of these categories. For example, at any point during a conversation a customer can ask Holly to speak with a “human” or “employee.” However, in the time of its activity only ~1% of customers have chosen to do so. This shows not only Holly’s effectiveness, but also the adaptability of Good Time’s customers to changing technology.

Hello Future World!

It’s official, the future is here. Conversational AI now holds real estate in our pockets, homes, and restaurants. It’s safe to say that the only direction is forward when it comes to AI tech., so we’d better be ready for the changes. What an exciting time to be alive!

Cheers!

 

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June 17th, 2019

MATS Technology – A New Wave of Innovation

Posted in Product Innovation, R&D Technology

MATS technology could be the next game changer in packaged foods

MATS technology

Photo courtesy of foodnavigator-asia.com

Microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS technology, could be the next big wave of innovation to hit packaged food. It promises to preserve the nutrients, color, texture and flavor of foods — while providing a shelf life equivalent to conventionally processed foods.

This seems like a pretty lofty goal, but it might be closer to a reality than we think. Let’s take a look at the MATS technology and how it might help to change the landscape of packaged foods as we know them.

What is MATS

MATS MAPS

Photo courtesy of foodnavigator-asia.com

As stated above, MATS stands for “microwave assisted thermal sterilization.” 915 Labs, the exclusive developer of this technology, believes it can solve one of the most ardent challenges facing the food industry today: providing consumers with high quality, natural, and additive-free packaged foods. On paper this seems great, but how exactly does it work?

MATS technology immerses packaged food in pressurized hot water while simultaneously heating with microwave energy at a frequency of 915 megahertz. Unlike retort processing, MATS can eliminate pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in a matter of minutes, rather than hours. As we know, the longer food is cooked under high heat and pressure the more it degrades the color, flavor, and nutrient bioavailability.

You could see then, how if MATS can deliver on its promise, our expectations of shelf-stable foods could change dramatically.

What About Pasteurization?

Clean Label Preservation

Conveniently enough, MATS units also provide microwave assisted pasteurization technology (MAPS) without any additional equipment.  This results in restaurant-quality, ready-to-eat foods and beverages with a shelf life of up to 12 weeks.

The extended shelf-life for the likes of prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals, beverages, vegetables, fruits, dips, sauces and salsas means less waste, higher quality, and greater availability. This can become especially important in food desserts, where convenience stores and bodegas serve as the primary grocery centers for a large population.

What Other Benefits Can MATS/MAPS Offer

Aside from increased quality and shelf-life, the technology can also assist in the clean label mission. By extending shelf-life through mechanical means, MATS can reduce the amount of preservatives and flavor enhancers needed to make packaged foods safer and tastier. Think of needing less sugar, salt, and artificial flavors in foods because the natural flavors haven’t been cooked out.

bowl-cherries-chicken-936611

These benefits could also parlay into school food programs, nursing homes, cafeterias, and meal kit enterprises.

What’s Next for MATS Technology?

E-commerce providers like Amazon, Alibaba, and Jet are especially interested in this technology as they try to break into the prepared foods market. The ability to create high-quality, shelf-stable meals that are safe to eat for 12 months plays directly into their supply chain strengths.

The interest from these companies in MATS technology is not passive. Amazon was an early investor in 915 Labs for use in its AmazonFresh brand. Many observers are connecting its interest in this technology with the acquisition of Whole Foods markets. The digital and brick-and-mortar avenues could offer Amazon a large advantage in the distribution of ready-to-eat and meal kit foods.

AmazonFresh

Photo courtesy of IMD.org

The U.S. Military has also been a long supporter of MATS technology as a way to provide more nutrient dense, portable meals as a replacement for the classic MRE (meal ready to eat).

Summary

As MATS/MAPS technology continues to merge into the packaged food realm, we need to be ready for the potentials that come along with it. Consumers have driven the demand for clean label options, along with healthier foods. MATS could be the bridge that brings fresh tasting, long lasting, healthier foods to shelves and refrigerators nationwide. It’s important that packaged food producers become intimately acquainted with the technology as consumer demand could soon drive a global change in quality expectations.

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August 27th, 2018

2018 Pizza Industry Review – Pt. 2

Posted in Consumer Trends, Pizza, Product Innovation, Restaurants, Trends

Enhanced ordering, & new menu items

Catch-Up

Welcome back friends. Let’s do a quick catch-up session here.

Last blog we talked about the 2018 Pizza Industry, focusing on consumer preferences (convenience, quality, affordability), national chain vs. independent restaurant stats, and international growth.

Today, we’ll cover new menu trends and enhanced ordering with a spotlight on new tech.

Menu Trends

2018 is the year of personalization. Customers are looking for unique toppings, signature pies, and the ability to make whatever wacky concoction pops into their mind (looking at you, unicorn pizza). This has led to an expansion in toppings held on the line for many restaurants (think Brussels sprouts, clams, and brisket).

2018 Pizza Trends

Photo Courtesy of Teen Vogue

This love for customization is also a contributing factor to the success of fast casual pizza restaurants like Blaze and Mod. Additionally, these restaurants are quite popular with guests looking for healthier options or suffering from allergies and intolerances. They have many offerings to help avoid triggers and amp up the health quotient while still creating a delicious personal pie.

Finally, Detroit style pizza has found a proper following and is trickling across the nation. Most major cities now offer Detroit style, which is a deep dish pizza made in a rectangular pan. Its caramelized edges and thick, chewy dough have been turning heads and gaining a stable of fans for good reason.

Enhanced Ordering

As we discussed in the consumer needs section on the previous post, technology and ordering convenience are major factors in the customer’s restaurant choice. With 69% of internet users choosing the online ordering option per Emarketer, it’s imperative for pizza restaurants to not only adopt this measure, but make it convenient and easy as well.

pexels-photo-280453

Hand in hand with ease of ordering is efficient delivery. Customers want a fresh, hot pizza delivered to them within minutes of submitting the order, and, as it turns out, they prefer that delivery to be directly from the restaurant, rather than a third party service like GrubHub or DoorDash.

Pizza restaurants are also looking into new technology to help with faster delivery. Domino’s, for example, has developed proprietary technology that allows consumers to order pizza in multiple convenient ways (including through Twitter, Zero-Click ordering, the AnyWare app, and into the future with natural voice). They’ve even gone as far as to commission a line of automated vehicles complete with built-in pizza ovens that will be capable of baking a freshly made pizza en route to your home.

Conclusion

2018 Pizza Trends

That’s a wrap for the 2018 Pizza Industry Review. With all that’s happening around technological innovation, I can’t wait to see what the landscape looks like for 2019.

Be sure to comment about what you’ve seen or anticipate seeing in the future of pizza. The only limit is your imagination (see: Unicorn Pizza…).

Cheers!

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