Mega-bites: dining with digital

The restaurant and bar sector has been seen as retail’s less digitally-savvy relation. The purchase journey remains overwhelmingly analogue. Of the £57bn UK restaurant sector, c. 5% of purchases occur online. In the retail sector, this is 20%. In recent years, “virtual restaurant brands” existing only on delivery platforms, have challenged the sector’s traditional thinking. In the retail sector, digital only brands have gone from raising eyebrows to topping stock market listings.

Integration costs and implementation challenges have slowed the uptake of technology in the sector. From the operator perspective, investment in technology is only justified if it serves a clear operational or consumer need. Only then can it drive growth.

To date, convenience has been the main need served, with streamlined solutions from online table bookings to delivery platforms.

But can technology enhance the experience and not just its convenience?

We have identified three areas where it can have a deeper impact:

Customer empowerment

Digital solutions can democratise a stuffy experience and improve accessibility. Vagabond, the now eight-strong wine bar chain, has used a combination of automated wine dispensers and smart payment solutions to break down the awkwardness associated with a wine list. Customers can explore options and take control of their own experience. In quick service restaurants, digital interfaces can transform ordering for the better, allowing customers to explore menus and build baskets without the pressure of the queue building behind them.

Consumer feedback

Tech solutions to capture and analyse customer feedback are gaining traction. Yumpingo is a notable example, whereby customers are asked to rate their dish, service and experience on small custom tablets, along with the bill. Described by Wahaca CEO Mark Selby as “the missing link” in the restaurant world, it secured £7.7m backing from London based VC Smedvig Capital in January. Gavin Healy, head of back-of-house at Rosa’s Thai Café, has said it allows their chefs to optimise “flavours, plating, pricing – with immediate feedback”.

Service performance

In many cases, replacing staff with technology remains unfeasible or undesirable. But digital can drive significantly better performance from people. This can be through training, providing chefs with video tutorials for new menu items; in service delivery, giving waiters a live view of availability; or monitoring, tracking staff performance and rewarding achievement.

Tech investment will continue to grow in the sector. As the market becomes saturated with new solutions, applying a critical lens to this investment will be key to success. If tech is not improving efficiency, alleviating a pain point, or enhancing the consumer journey, it does not have a role.

​​​​​If you’d like to discuss this sector with us, or any of the services we offer, get in touch.