The New Drive-Thru Option for Restaurants During COVID-19

Introducing “Drive To” - Efficient Curbside Pickup in 7 Easy Steps

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything in the restaurant industry, and while those establishments with a drive-through option were able to continue semi-normal operation, it was the entire dine-in restaurant industry that was forced into new reality as they shuttered operations – deploying a some form of curbside pickup that enabled consumers to order online and pick up their food and beverages in the parking lot of the storefront.

With more than half of the US population still under a stay at home order, the concept seemed simple: a customer calls in an order, drives to the restaurant, parks outside and a runner brings the food to the car. Savvy operators even send a text or an email to the customer confirming the order confirmation code to click when they are in the parking lot.

With customer expectations not very high because of the pandemic, customers accepted it because they got the meal they wanted, without having to get out of the car. Dine-in restaurants liked it because it replaced shuttered sales without have any ability to seat patrons with dine-in options.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 46 percent of all customers said they would use curbside options at table service restaurants. With COVID-19, that number has jumped to 90%. Consumers realize restaurants and their remaining employees are doing the best they can in the situation, so there is a tolerance and forgiveness that hasn’t traditionally been present.

Therefore, there is a real opportunity to evolve the circumstances and evolve a “necessity”, into a “new reality” – Curbside pickup like in typical brick and mortar retail, is now becoming a requirement as a convenience option in the new world. Dine-in restaurants have now had time to realize that curbside pickup does come with challenges. It requires the key components of labor, inventory, software, and physical access and setup.

Owners need a more efficient digital menu with an integrated ordering system to speed the old way of taking an order over the phone, while the other lines ring with other patrons trying to do the same. They also need a robust point-of-sale system, accessible either through a mobile device or when a patron physically enters comes to the storefront. They need a flexible supply chain of ingredients and parking access and a staging system to keep the line moving in sequence of the ordering and fulfillment. And finally, instead of order takers with the wait staff, they need flexible labor to manage it all. The new reality now arguably provides them with a Drive-To Option rather than a Drive-Thru Option favored by the fast-food patrons.

Below are 7 recommended areas of focus to ensure success in the new curbside service -
  1. Leverage Mobile Apps - Full Stack Mobile Apps with integrated Loyalty and Incentives Features, that you can add your Brand/ Store to
    • According to Gartner RIS, in 2016, the total revenue from mobile app downloads, advertising, and in-app purchases was $88 billion—this number is projected to pass $188 billion in 2020. A 113 percent increase over four years, the growth is largely generated from the convenience of consumers wanting to find and purchase the things they need or think about spontaneously.
    • Forecasters predict revenue in the online food delivery segment to reach $94.385 billion in 2019 a growth rate of 9.3 percent, resulting in a market volume of $134.49 billion by 2023, driven by restaurant digital orders which have grown at an annual pace of 23 percent since 2013 and will triple in volume by the end of 2020. Of those digital orders, 60 percent are through mobile apps. According to Statista, branded digital restaurant app or websites represent 70 percent of orders and the remaining come through third-party apps or other types of apps or platforms.
    • Coupled with rewards and discount promotions restaurant-branded apps are being accessed in greater volumes because customers are drawn to personal incentives. For smaller restaurants, third-party apps like GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash level the playing field by allowing them to operate in the sector without making expensive investments in IT infrastructure that larger operations can deploy.                                                                      
  2. Extend Order Readiness through WiFi/ Geo Fencing technology
    • Another key to success is the implementation of a system to alert customers and stores when they are in proximity of a venue/restaurant/location. The system should indicate when a customer is nearby, when an order is ready and when it has been picked up.
    • The widespread adoption of smartphones has put a GPS/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth radio in the pockets of millions of consumers and ushered in an age of incredibly cheap and ubiquitous geolocation markers that has pushed geofencing from an expensive commercial practice into the realm of consumer application. What used to be a very costly tool for very specific applications is now free to include in mobile menu apps as the consumer already has the necessary hardware. This feature enables key order readiness and an improved overall customer experience as it notifies the store when a customer has come on site to pick up their order.
    • The integration with a mobile app synch with the order number along with the make/model and color of the vehicle upon their arrivals has streamlined the process to an even greater degree. Incentives, discounts and loyalty programs can drive greater adoption of the feature. Additional features like GEO fence triggering enables new features like “When I leave my home/ (ordering location) then notify the store I’m in route.                                                                                                                                                    
  3. Simplify the Payment Process.
    • The Starbucks® app is one of the bigger success stories in mobile proximity payments thanks to its ability to tie payments to its order management system. The value of ordering and immediately paying with a phone is clear and simple — you can save time and money ordering remotely and when you arrive at the store, you conveniently pick up your coffee without a wait.
    • In 2020, 38 million people will use the app to make a food and POS purchase at least once every six months (source: Starbucks). Apple Pay (28 million), Google Pay (14 million) and Samsung Pay (11 million) three popular payment options are dwarfed by comparison because they aren’t specifically tied to a menu drive option.
    • Dine-in restaurants have numerous digital options that allow for the creation of an integrated digital menu as well as payment options to facilitate similar success.  These options include singular solutions that can dynamically adapt to PC screens that also “respond” to mobile screen size requirements on the fly.                                                                                            
  4. Implement Appropriate Packaging
    • With the focus on customer experience, poor packaging can quickly create a poor experience which quickly translates into a negative impact and lost revenue. Sourcing quality carryout containers in form factors that are easily transportable, prevent spillage of liquids, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold is essential.
    • Peal and stick labels derived from POS labeling technology that allows for the printing of order information is needed for the proper staging and tracking of orders in the fulfillment process. 
    • Containers also represent unique advertising opportunities that leverage gratitude or promote brand messaging from the storefront to the parking lot and into the home.                                                                                                                                                                              
  5. Refine the Curbside Workflow
    • Curbside pickup isn’t simply pull up to a curb. Parking lots and streets have now become important staging areas which must accommodate the need for balance - enabling specific places to park and that your staff can easily find them without slowdown to the fulfillment process. Alternate lanes for lagging orders should be considered to keep flow moving. The mobile app further enables better tracking and function when coupled with an order management app on the workers staff to track delivery order closures.
    • Curbside advertising is a must as it enables you to promote and even acquire the mobile app as customers walk up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  6. Deliver an Exceptional Pick Up Experience
    • Confirm Orders Upon Curbside Pick-up. The discovery of missing items or options after a customer leaves the pick-up area is a recipe for disaster. It’s imperative to confirm the list of items when handing the containers and using a mobile or tablet device to do so minimizes trips back into the restaurant. Mobile POS functions using a secure, wireless credit card terminal or a mobile payment app on a smart phone or tablet should also be considered for any adjustments.                                                                                                                                                                                             
  7. Train Your Staff
    • As with dine-in, service is key to generating repeat curbside business.  If you have a host stand, you might able to leverage that staff to run the food out if it will not negatively impact your dine-in guests. It’s best to dedicate staff to take orders, watch for arrivals and deliver food to cars. Train employees to utilize the mobile and POS systems and particularly the systems that notify incoming customers’ cars when taking orders so curbside staff can identify them when they arrive.
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