Why Restaurants Need to be Digital First

Sam Langrock Feb 21, 2020

The title of this blog post reads “Why Restaurants Need to be Digital First”. To explain the ‘why’ let’s take a quick look at what Chipotle did over the past year. In 2019, Chipotle doubled down on their digital initiatives, and their efforts paid off, handsomely. According to PYMNTS.com, Chipotle did “$282 million in digital sales in Q4, representing a 78% year over year growth”. If you still need more proof that Chipotle had a stellar year, check out these articles in QSR Magazine, Forbes, and Restaurant Dive

Chipotle’s success should raise some questions for restaurant chains that are not as far along in their digital transformation. How could enhancing your digital strategy improve your business? What’s the cost of not doing anything? This post aims to help you improve upon your strategies, through our experience helping some of the largest fast casual and quick service restaurants undergo their own digital transformations. 

How do you become digital first? 

To become digital first you must analyze the paths for reducing friction and providing convenient access to all customers. Curt Gartner, Chipotle’s CTO told Forbes, “We’re almost maniacs when it comes to looking at ways to reduce friction for guests and our crew.”

Think about how your customers order their food. Do they order in-store, through an app, via a website, on a third-party delivery marketplace, or potentially another avenue? In each of these scenarios are there steps that could be taken out to reduce friction and enhance customer convenience? 

To help provide guidance on building a more extensive digital experience, here are some of our favorite tips, tricks, and strategies. 

Order ahead & pick-up shelves 

Think of all the times you’ve chosen not to grab food from your favorite fast casual or quick serve restaurant simply because the line was an inconvenience to you. Not to state the obvious, but everyone (and I mean pretty much everyone) strongly dislikes waiting in lines. Reduce the friction they cause and provide customers with more convenience by implementing the ability to order ahead and providing pick-up shelves for when they do (Wingstop is even piloting pick-up lockers). Now instead of thinking what a terrible line that was to wait in, customers can simply pick up their meal, at their desired time, and be on their way. Thanks to you, your customers have now shaved precious time off their busy schedules, which is one positive way to engender loyalty.

Seamless app and website experience 

A great way to enhance and support your order ahead strategy is to improve your app and website experience. Chipotle incorporated a number of features into both channels that reduce the amount of steps necessary for customers to complete their order. For example, they enable customers to save their favorite meal or pull up recent orders to conveniently check out without having to rebuild a previous order from scratch. In addition, customers can easily see if they have rewards available, are eligible for any bonuses, and view how close they are to their next reward. By creating a seamless app and website experience that enables customers to easily order their favorite meal, pull up their loyalty rewards, and apply available offers to their order, Chipotle has created two powerful channels in their digital flywheel to reduce friction and provide convenience to the customer. 

A comprehensive rewards program 

Chipotle launched their new points-based rewards program last March, and have had 8.5 million members enroll since. According to CEO Brian Niccol, the program is “one of the fastest-growing restaurant loyalty programs in history” (QSR Magazine). This can partially be attributed to the fact that Chipotle has a loyal customer base, and a rewards program is something they were asking for. However, the way in which Chipotle rolled out their program and ensured it was integrated with their app, website, and at the point-of-sale was critical for the program to make it easy for customers to earn and redeem their rewards. The program hasn’t just led to an increase in spend from their most loyal customers. According to Niccol, they are “encouraged by the early signs of transaction increases across all frequency bands”. Successful programs focus on moving the needle across the customer base, incentivizing incrementality and rewarding high value behaviors.

In an age where customers have more power over how their data is used, loyalty programs provide brands with an excellent avenue for collecting customer data and delivering more delightful experiences across the customer journey. As a customer engagement and loyalty platform, SessionM enables restaurants to collect individual first-party customer data and activate it across channels for personalized interactions that lead to increased customer profitability and loyalty. Find out more, by scheduling a demo, and begin down the path to becoming digital first!