Is the dining experience better or worse with technology?

The adoption of QR code ordering technology in the hospitality sector rocketed during the pandemic, as restaurants did their best to protect diners and staff. It meant that in order to socialise with friends and family over a meal, diners had to adapt to a new style of customer experience.

Now all social distancing and table service regulation has been ditched, yet many businesses are sticking with the technology. Often I am asked why this is and what impact it has on the customer experience so here’s my take.

Firstly, whilst in-house digital ordering technologies like self-service kiosks and QR codes are not designed to entirely automate the dining experience and replace employees, it has helped to free up staff time. With this availability, they’re able to ensure the broader dining experience is improved by giving more attention to customers that need it and keeping the premise clean and tidy.

And unlocking staff time has been essential as the industry continues to grapple staff shortages. Nothing ruins the diner experience more than eating in a restaurant that’s clearly understaffed. Our research found that just four months ago, 85% of restaurant owners were struggling to hire staff. To solve the problem, nearly half (45%) of restaurant and café owners are asking existing staff to work longer hours and a similar number (46%) simply work longer hours themselves to deal with the problem. QR code ordering and digital kiosk technology can ease this burden in the long-term.

Secondly, digital ordering removes the barriers of traditional print menus. Instead of fixed menus and chefs updating staff when dishes run out, managers can quickly and easily remove the options on the spot. And longer-term it creates flexibility to trial promotions, alter prices and change the menu more frequently, all of which ultimately benefit the diner. It also greatly reduces the chance of miscommunication and human error between staff and customer when ordering.

Finally, there are still many customers who want to maintain social distancing even though there are no laws demanding it. The latest official ONS data in March 2022 showed that nearly three in ten (28%) of adults always or often maintain social distancing when they’re outside their home. For these 15 million people, having the option to order at a table rather than queuing or interacting directly with staff will improve their experience. This is supported by a Flipdish study that found the majority (80%) of pub-goers who have used digital tools to order food and drinks during the pandemic, want to keep using them in the long-term.

The new digital customer experience that we have become accustomed to is no longer novel; it is a welcomed part of modern hospitality. There will always be a number of people who reflect longingly on a time gone by when technology wasn’t part of  restaurants, but the digitisation of the industry is long overdue, and has both changed and improved the customer experience permanently.

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