Full-service restaurants have to dramatically change to survive now and after the pandemic

Nearly everywhere in the United States, restaurants have been ordered to close their dining rooms to customers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To survive, restaurants have implemented drastic changes in how they operate and what they offer customers. Fast-casual and quick-service restaurants have adapted more easily because they already provide take-out, drive-through or delivery. Full-service restaurants have had to think creatively and implement significant changes to reinvent their dining experience.

Sam Zietz, YPO member and CEO of Grubbrr, a software company that provides restaurant ordering solutions, believes this fundamental change will continue for the entire restaurant industry long after social distancing restrictions are lifted. “Just like 9/11, this pandemic is not going to leave the American psyche for years. Our behaviors are going to be impaired and as a result of that, businesses will need to react,” he says.

Zietz adds that all restaurants will have to function in a different manner, with full-service restaurants making the biggest pivot to implement take-out and delivery as a significant part of their future operations.

Today, full-service restaurants are just trying to survive. To help restaurants quickly change to only take-out and delivery, Grubbrr developed a contactless ordering solution that allows the entire transaction to be completed by the customer using their phone or device. This solution can be implemented immediately, and Grubbrr is offering this software free to any restaurant during the pandemic.

Zietz says that a restaurant needs to have their online menu in place, which Grubbrr can provide. Once that is done, then a QR code is created based on their menu. When the customer scans the QR code, the entire menu appears on the customer’s phone, turning their phone into their own personal kiosk—to place an order and to pay for it.

The real winner post-pandemic will be the kiosk. Here’s why.

While using a QR code offers an immediate solution, Zietz says the self-ordering kiosk is going to be the winner for restaurants post-pandemic. Previously, Zietz predicted that the kiosk would be a mainstay in restaurants in two to five years. Now he says that will happen in two to five months.

Grubbrr offers a self-ordering kiosk and works with both enterprise-level restaurant chains as well as smaller operations. Zietz expects that post-pandemic companies are going to quickly put kiosks in the fast-casual and quick-service restaurants both because the customer will still want social distancing and for economic reasons.

Zietz says that the restaurant industry has been a significant laggard in technology and that the pandemic has been a huge wake-up call. “Restaurants are not only going to have to catch up, most of them are going to have to be at the forefront if they want to survive. And the future is utilizing kiosks in using automation and utilizing online ordering to get them where they need to be,” he says.

Before the pandemic, fast-casual and quick-service restaurants were evaluating kiosks, but the technology had yet to be fully embraced by company management nor the general public. Zietz says that if done correctly, using a self-ordering kiosk provides restaurants three benefits: increased revenue through add-on sales, reduced operational costs by needing fewer workers, and a better experience by ensuring the customer gets exactly what they ordered.

The user experience makes all the difference

Both restaurants and customers have been reluctant to embrace kiosks because they have failed to provide an acceptable user experience, one that is easy for any customer and matches or exceeds their current ordering experience. This comes down to the functionality of the user interface and user experience of the software on the kiosk.

“Most kiosks are just point-of-sale systems turned sideways. We’ve spent three years in development working with customers figuring out the best user interface and user experience integrations. That’s our secret sauce,” says Zietz.

While take-out and delivery are a natural fit for fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, Zietz argues that full-service restaurants will need to pivot significantly and more fully embraced this option as a permanent part of their offering. They will need to examine all parts of their operation including their website and online menu, their suppliers for upgraded delivery materials, and technology for take-out operations.

“Just like 9/11, this pandemic is not going to leave the American psyche for years. Our behaviors are going to be impaired and as a result of that, businesses will need to react.” Sam Zietz, CEO Grubbrr

What’s coming

Zietz says that post-pandemic, the driving force in our society will be to minimize unnecessary human interaction wherever possible because it will be perceived as safer and more hygienic. Most restaurants do not have a drive-thru lane, so curbside delivery will become the next-best alternative. However, most existing point-of-sale platforms cannot connect an order to a curbside vehicle. To enable this new consumer behavior, Grubbrr is already seeing significant demand for kiosks and contactless ordering.

Zietz adds that you only need to look at Chinese society today to see what will be coming for the U.S. restaurant industry tomorrow. He says that people are going back to work in China, but they are not taking mass transit. A restaurant that used to seat 100 people, now only seats 50 because people want more distance.

“In restaurants, more people are carrying out. They’re eating farther apart from each other. You are going to need to be positioned long-term for more carry-out business. This means you need to have an online menu, which means to me, you should have kiosks. You need to run your economics because you are not going to be able to fill your restaurants like you used to,” says Zietz.

For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.