Text by C. Scott Wyatt

“Ineed my restaurants online. Yesterday,” the concerned co-owner of several small restaurants explained. “Our customers want to order from their phones.”

Web designers and programmers have always heard that projects are needed “yesterday.” This call was different. It is no exaggeration to say businesses that cannot get online and adjust to the on-demand economy will fail.

The restaurateur calling me had remodeled one of his locations in early 2020. Everything was new, from teapots to marble counters. You dine at the restaurant to watch the food preparation.

I love the food served by this family and their employees.

We’re not a fast-food family. The restaurant experiences we enjoyed did not come in boxes or insulated carriers. Sizzling fajitas and guacamole prepared at the table. A Japanese teppanyaki chef, performing as much as cooking. Bananas Foster with a perfect flambé. Dining out meant meals we couldn’t prepare at home.

Until 2020, I loved going to restaurants and trying the daily specials. At my favorite restaurants, I’d merely ask for whatever the staff suggested. We value service, quality food and an enjoyable atmosphere.

My daughters and I would visit a bakery where clerks greeted the girls by name and each offered a cookie. Knowing the names of my children? That ensures my loyalty. Try as I might, I cannot match the cookies made at that bakery.

Sadly, we haven’t sat at a table in a restaurant or café since the first week of March 2020. As I discussed the last year with the restaurant owner, I realized that we had only placed two take-out orders with him, both by phone.

“Nobody calls anymore, not like they used to,” he said. “They don’t want to talk over the phone. They want an app or something.”

He needed to reimagine his business based on what customers expected: online ordering and fast delivery.

We’re now in an online and on-demand economy. In 2019, overnight delivery of orders placed with Amazon Prime set the standard for fast service. Today, Amazon offers two-hour delivery in some large cities. Target, Walmart, Walgreens and other national chains offer same-day pick-up for orders placed online.

My wife and I use online ordering for everything. We expect to order, drive to the store and have items loaded into the back of our SUV.

Within a week, I helped the restaurant configure a new point-of-sale system that could connect to a website or phone app. We then designed a phone-friendly website with a visual menu for customers.

It was 10 days from initial discussion to implementing an online ordering system that printed tickets for the kitchen staff.

Although I suggest online marketing to every business owner I meet, this family did not have social media pages for their restaurants.


“Nobody calls anymore, not like they used to,” he said. “They don’t want to talk over the phone. They want an app or something.”


 

Establishing social media profiles requires more than opening accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. A business needs to post to social media regularly so customers have a reason to follow.

The restaurant began posting pictures of how to plate their meals at home. They posted tips for teas and wines to pair with the dishes. Most importantly, they reminded customers to leave reviews online.

Reviews on Yelp and Google matter as much as what friends and family recommend.

When a customer shared a review, the family responded, even if the review was negative. The owners apologized and asked how to make things right.

Computers collect a lot of data, which becomes knowledge if you study it.

Tracking orders and online reviews confirmed that customers who once spent an hour or more dining now wanted meals ready for immediate pick-up or delivered in 30 minutes or less. The restaurant team simplified the menu to ensure that items could be prepared within 10 minutes and promptly sent out for delivery or rushed out to the designated parking spaces.

We soon discovered that delivery customers within 15 miles or less posted more positive reviews. That information led us to configure the online system to limit the delivery area. Negative reviews weren’t worth a handful of orders.

After struggling with the high fees of third-party delivery services, the family asked dining room staff if they would like to handle local deliveries. This decision kept people employed and cut costs.

I look forward to sitting in a restaurant, watching a master teppanyaki chef tossing knives in the air.

Unfortunately, surveys suggest that many people have come to prefer speed and convenience. People were drifting away from mid-range dining and movie theaters. The pandemic merely accelerated the shifting economy.

When the pandemic passes, consumers will still expect the online and on-demand economy. Curbside service was already taking hold, slowly, before the novel coronavirus. Now, many of us expect convenience.

I’m glad my skills could help a family business. It still saddens me, too.

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