The push towards digital adoption is a game-changer in order for your restaurant to succeed

Published June 23, 2021

Modern digital consumers placed $38 billion worth of food orders using mobile devices last year, want restaurants to be more sustainable, and are concerned about how restaurants handle their personal data—especially with the increase in online ordering. Restaurants that embrace these evolving habits and look to earn consumers’ trust are in a terrific position to connect more closely with today’s “always-on” consumers.

The pandemic boosted digital-first activities because people were left with little choice in how they lived, worked and dined. This rapid digital adoption has profoundly affected how consumers will interact with and eat at restaurants for years to come.

Digital consumers put less faith in traditional advertising, so earning their trust is more important

Digital diners won’t fall for the same old advertising tropes. They’re savvy and know when they’re being sold to. But digital channels offer the chance for restaurants to prove their authenticity through more organic marketing methods like reviews and other user-generated content.

The data paints a clear picture of consumer skepticism in traditional advertising while simultaneously proving the efficacy of “earned media” (publicity gained not from paid advertising but through organic means like word of mouth):

  • Less than half of modern consumers trust traditional advertising
  • Just 58 percent trust “owned media”, anything controlled by your brand like social media and email
  • More than 90 percent trust earned media above any other type of advertising

The reason traditional advertising can alienate audiences is that it can feel patronizing. Simply telling customers that you’re the best restaurant in town, and therefore they should visit you, just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

A great way to earn digital consumers’ trust is by understanding their pain points and delivering authentic solutions that address them. Going the extra mile to cater to those with food sensitivities, for example, is an ideal way to prove you appreciate them and are willing to work to improve their experience—and also a perfect way to earn a great review.

It’s an ongoing process, so continuously interacting with customers in meaningful ways will help solidify their faith in your brand. In addition to understanding and reacting to their needs, you can:

  • Provide real-time assistance with online ordering and customer inquiries
  • Follow through on promises, especially when it comes to protecting their data and upholding policies
  • Allow for open communication through public and private forums and engage consumers in dialogue and share their experience

These tactics go a long way to increasing your restaurant's reputation and increasing consumer trust. Additionally, with 51 percent of consumers advocating for brands they trust, you further expand your brand visibility.

They research restaurants more thoroughly before dining

Doing a quick search for information about a restaurant takes little effort, and 77 percent of consumers research a restaurant before dining there. Restaurants can use this to boost their image and trust among customers if they’re mindful of how they’re perceived online.

More than 80 percent of digital consumers conduct brand and product research before buying, with 60 percent of that research starting on search engines like Google. Understanding how to make information more accessible and helpful to them is the key to making consumer research a bigger part of the conversion process.

Consistently cultivating a positive brand image gives you a leg up over competitors in an age of discerning digital consumers. It’s tough to control every piece of information that might pop up while consumers research your restaurant, but putting your best foot forward ensures you’ll be represented in the best way possible:

  • Make sure you’re easy to find: All it should take is a quick question in a search engine to find your restaurant. Brush up on SEO knowledge and keep creating authentic content to guarantee your customers can find valuable information about your restaurant without too much digging.
  • Highlight glowing feedback: User reviews are among the top pieces of information that consumers look for. Because other customers have no affiliation or incentive to advocate for your brand, when someone gives positive feedback, it has a huge impact on the confidence others will have in dining at your restaurant. Consider giving quick, genuine responses to reviews and questions to make them even more impactful.
  • Be transparent every step of the way: Your end-to-end processes, from sourcing to fulfillment, should be public knowledge. This goes back to the all-powerful influence of trust on today’s consumers. If they know more about where your food comes from and how it’s made, the brand’s commitment to being an open book makes consumers feel secure and builds loyalty.

Digital consumers have evolving expectations, so making the right information available to your audience will continue to foster loyalty and improve sales—especially through digital channels.

Related: Increase loyalty for your restaurant with a robust incentive program

They’re starting to prefer technology for food orders and payment

Digital consumers are changing the way they order from restaurants. Smart devices are ubiquitous today (thanks to the internet of things), so digital consumers have plenty of options in how they buy. From smartphones and tablets to AI-driven smart speakers and more, the possibilities are growing.

Mobile is emerging as a game-changer for food ordering. More than half of digital consumers want restaurants to have their own mobile app for takeout orders. As for dining in, almost half expect restaurants to offer mobile ordering  at the table, while 43 percent want mobile payment options in-restaurant.

Related: How restaurants connect using Contactless Point of Sale Technology

What does this mean for restaurants (and any businesses, for that matter)? That mobile optimization should be at the forefront of their digital strategy. Mobile-first web design—for responsiveness, usability and loading times, for example—can make or break customer experience. And mobile payment options are also on the rise, showing constant growth that will continue upward for years to come, so offering flexible payment options is a must.

Smart speakers are gaining momentum with digital consumers, too, so offering voice search and ordering is a priority. Statista predicts that around 75 percent of U.S. households will own a smart speaker by 2025. While 62 percent of consumers that currently own a smart speaker have used them to buy products online, only 8 percent have used them for food orders. Despite this, it’s a growing channel that’s been called “The Next Frontier in Restaurant Ordering Technology.”

Digital-first habits are here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future)

The push toward digital adoption during the pandemic was unprecedented, and consumers have taken to the convenience and utility of digital-first buying behavior like bees to honey. Research by Deloitte indicates that digital consumers’ habits are here to stay: “Online usage trends initiated or accelerated during the pandemic are likely to mould consumer behaviours for years to come.”

Getting customers to vouch for your brand builds trust better than paid ads, being transparent and informative about your restaurant and dishes builds loyalty, and understanding how consumers prefer to order ensures you can meet them wherever they are. All are important factors in future-proofing your restaurant in the eyes of tomorrow’s digital consumer, today. Bon appetit!

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