Government actions taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have put our industry through immense stress. Federal and local jurisdictions have increasingly restricted quick-service restaurant operations. For weeks, quick-service restaurants across the nation are forced to offer drive-thru services only as states enforce new social distancing. Closing dining rooms limits millions of guest and staff interactions, further enabling social distancing, and keeping both staff and guests safe. But as a result, chains have seen declining foot-traffic levels and sales.
However, this situation is likely to change significantly. As consumers adapt to drive-thru and to-go models, quick-service restaurants are likely to see more demand than ever. Quick-service restaurants brands will need to be able to scale off-premise operational efficiency across their locations to meet demand. The restaurants that optimize for off-premise will have the advantage in the long run. Adopting technology can help restaurants improve their bottom line during this critical time and capture more market share in the long run.
Drive-Thru Wait Times Will Increase Further
According to the 2019 QSR Drive-Thru Study, average drive-thru wait times increased by 8.5% compared to 2018. Long drive-thru wait times can negatively impact your operations in several ways. They affect a guest’s impression of the brand, and a long wait time can lower their chances of returning. Secondly, guests who see a long drive-thru line are more likely to defect and purchase their meal somewhere else.
Wait times will increase further due to increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. A study found that delivery and to-go became 15 times more popular during the first few weeks of “shelter in place” regulations, as well as an increasing interest in fast food. As of April, delivery and takeout are 305 times more popular. Even casual dining chains are acknowledging a surge in demand. Darden Restaurants reported that their off-premise sales have grown 162% percent compared to the previous year as people change their behaviors. Guests may prefer to still limit their interactions with staff and other dining room guests, and seek off-premise options instead.
Increase Your Market Share
The post-pandemic restaurant industry will be a less-saturated market, heightening the importance for brands that do survive weeks of dining room closures to step up their guest experience. According to a general rule of thumb for quick-service restaurants, a seven-second reduction in wait time results in an average 1 percent gain in market share.
This effect will be amplified in a post-pandemic situation, when guests are looking for restaurants that provide more value and a seamless experience. A study found that guests attribute a very high cost to the time they spend waiting at a quick-service drive-thru.
Improve Operational Efficiency on Low Margins with Technology
Is your quick-service restaurant prepared for the post-pandemic demand surge? But how can your chain ramp up its service speeds when resources remain tight? Quick-service restaurants require a solution that makes their off-premise operations more efficient to handle the increased demand, at scale, and without needing to hire more staff. Technology offers operators the best value by allowing even a limited number of staff to increase throughput and delivering insights to optimize allocation of staff.
Computer Vision: The first step in optimizing your operations is to identify bottlenecks that are unique to your chain. Computer Vision measures line lengths, wait times, and opt-out rates in real time so managers can determine peak traffic times and optimize staffing schedules. Do drive-thru wait times peak during a certain hour of the day? Computer Vision sends this information to managers, who can allocate more staff to their drive-thru station to increase throughput.
Line Busters: These tablets enable staff to enter orders and take payments at the car window, thus speeding up lines and eliminating opt-outs. When drive-thru lines are long, Computer Vision simply sends an alert to the manager, who then is able to deploy staff with Line Busters to shorten lines. In addition, staff can pull up the profiles of guests who have opted in, offering personalized upsells and speeding up service.
In-Store Kiosks: Are you seeing a surge in online orders, but do not want to neglect guests who come in for to-go? In-Store Kiosks free up counter staff for the kitchen to accommodate for online orders. At the same time, they help speed up lines and eliminate opt-outs.
Guest confidence will return; the only question is when, and restaurants need to take preemptive action to be ready and earn brand equity. While it is still difficult to determine which elements of off-premise will see the most popularity, restaurants can use technology to gather more information on wait times and take action to increase service speed in real time. Additional solutions such as tablets and kiosks can make the return to normal operations more seamless and cost-effective, and ultimately help quick-service chains grow beyond pre-pandemic levels. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about these solutions in our platform.