To say that the months of March and April were difficult for the restaurant business would be a pretty gargantuan understatement. While the QSR sector was the one bright spot, virtually no one in the industry was spared from the impacts of the pandemic.
In a recent webinar, Steve Cass, vice present of the restaurants vertical for Fiserv, shared his observations about the latest trends and where the marketplace appears to be heading.
Steve: It comes as no surprise that QSR is clearly doing the best in the industry. Those QSRs with well-oiled drive through operations – the ones who with line-busting capabilities and good throughput - have been able to retain a large percentage of their traffic even with dining rooms closed. We also see that promotions are still working, as they drive traffic to the drive-throughs. We believe this will be a trend for the foreseeable future.
Steve: Those restaurants that adopted an omni-channel strategy, that encompasses point-of-sale, online and mobile ordering, have been best prepared as this disruption has unfolded. In-app ordering and in-app payments have been embraced by best-in-class operators as customers look for contact-free options. The use of handheld payment devices, such as Fiserv’s Clover Flex®, definitely improve curbside pickup, as more and more customers express a desire for dip, swipe and tap capabilities. In many cases we are able to deploy Clover Flex or similar hand held devices within as few as 72 hours, enabling stores to standup curbside operations quickly. The feedback we’re getting from clients is that Clover is very easy to use and requires little training for staff. For those restaurants without drive-through operations, third-party delivery operations, such as Uber Eats, Door Dash, Postmates and Grub Hub, are proving to be crucial.
Steve: While restaurant staffs have for the most part been greatly reduced, tips have actually increased as customers express their appreciation for those cooking and serving them, either through curbside pickup or delivery. The challenge for restaurants is then distributing tips and salary to employees in a way that is as safe as possible. Fiserv’s Money Network Service offers preloaded cards that put money in the hands of employees quickly and safely, allowing staff to avoid going into a bank to cash a paper check. We are also seeing some restaurant chains giving closed-loop gift cards to employees as a form of emergency pay. Speaking of cards, we are also seeing a trend with restaurants selling virtual gift cards online, which is a convenient way for customers to help others in need. One chain in particular said they’ve now sold more gift cards online in the last three weeks than they did in all of 2019.
Steve: As restrictions are gradually lifted and restaurants attempt to get back to business-as-usual, communication with customers will be especially important. Getting the word out about changing business hours, new services such as online apps, curbside pickup and contactless payment options, as well as new social distancing and safety protocols, will be crucial for restoring customer confidence. Fiserv offers commercial print and digital communications services, such as mailers, coupons, disposable menus, etc. These are the sorts of things that restaurants will need to think about as they look to the immediate future.