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In recent years, World Wide Technology has helped leading quick serve restaurant brands like Jersey Mike's, Little Caesars and more shift their businesses to fit today's digital world. Our work in this sector has focused on mobile application development, kiosks, loyalty programs, marketing automation and modernizing point of sale (POS) systems.

Through this work, we have learned a lot about expanding restaurant operations and business processes to support online ordering, delivery, take-out, drive thru, digital marketing, new POS systems and integration with third-parties like Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats and the other platforms that have made it easy to order from home.

What you can do to help ease the shift

With the social distancing that we're all facing now, communities and restaurants across the United States and around the world are having to quickly shift to these new modes. To help, we're offering some insights based on what we have learned with our clients.

By and large, our perception is that restaurants that operate as franchises are well-prepared to shift operations to a full drive thru, delivery or take-out models. They will effectively turn themselves into "ghost kitchens"—a phenomenon that started within the last year: building a restaurant with no seating, only a kitchen, to provide only take-out and delivery orders.

It's going to eventually become a bottom-line profitability challenge, as most restaurants are running on small margins, especially in delivery. It's nice to see that most of the third-party delivery services—DoorDash, GrubHub and PostMates—are eliminating delivery fees in the short term.

It's the small, neighborhood restaurants that are going to struggle because they don't have existing fulfillment partnerships and depend very heavily—some exclusively—on dine-in. They also don't have large lines of credit to get them through a gap. 

In recent days, our team has spoken to the owners of several such restaurants, and from these discussions, we've assembled a list of their common struggles. These are shared below along with our advice.

Restaurant websites

This may sound bizarre, but many small restaurants don't have a great web presence or even a web presence at all. And if they do, it may not have been touched in years. As part of the evolving government restrictions, restaurants may be required to post messages on the sites to instruct people that they're closed. If the restaurant is also shifting to delivery and/or take-out, they'll want to let customers know how to order. Creating simple messages on a website may be difficult for some restaurants, especially if they have no digital agency or freelancer on staff to help.

Action to take: If you are a website designer or developer, reach out to small restaurants in your community and offer to do some small website changes for them. They'll appreciate the help.

Partnerships for online ordering

Many restaurants are already set up for delivery with one of the third-party providers. But most are not set up to accept take-out orders, especially in an automated way. Sure, people can still call in orders like we've always done. But if all the orders are coming in like this, likely with a reduced staff, this may not be optimal.

Many restaurants use Aloha, Clover, Toast and similar systems as their POS. All of these have the ability to turn a main line telephone number into a line that accepts orders via text message. We recommend that restaurants turn this on but be prepared to help educate customers about how they should order this way.

A better solution is wrapping a restaurant POS with a platform like OLO or a similar, custom solution that automates online ordering and integrates inbound orders with the POS and the kitchen's order prep flow. (This is something WWT has been helping many of our clients solve.)

Action to take: Restaurants should explore their current POS to see what capabilities it has for inbound orders. If possible, it may also be smart to plan for and begin implementing some better tools in this area.

Gift cards

Restaurants need cash flow to stay afloat. Gift cards are effectively giving a restaurant a loan in the form of short-term cash with longer-term profitability. However, many restaurants only let you buy a gift card in the restaurant, which is now closed.

Action to take: Some POS platforms like Toast allow restaurants to sell mobile gift cards. Explore your POS to see if digital or mobile gift cards are an option. If not, consider finding an online gift card platform you can leverage like Gift Card Suite, GiftFly or Yiftee. And for everyone reading this: If you can, buy some gift cards from your favorite local restaurants and other businesses in your community.

Digital marketing

It would be extremely helpful for restaurants to know what customers have used take-out or delivery services before. Email newsletters and social media outreach could focus on those who have to help encourage them to continue supporting the business. For example, for restaurants with loyalty programs, a digital marketing campaign could focus on giving 2x reward points to customers who continue to support the business during this trying time.

Yet, as with the case of restaurant websites, many don't have digital agencies, marketing agencies or freelance experts at the ready to tackle this. Even if they do, this may be a de-prioritized business expense now.

Action to take: If you have digital marketing, email marketing and/or marketing analytics expertise, consider reaching out to restaurants in your community and offer to help out with this in the coming months. Draft emails, do market research, run the social media channels, review analytics, etc. Though these marketing patterns are well established, many restaurants lack this expertise.

Small restaurant owners are great at food. We've all delighted in the tasty crafts they fashion in their kitchens. But many aren't great at technology. We're hoping this helps guide some along the path, and we're also hoping it leads others who are good at technology to reach out to the local restaurants in their communities and offer to help. We'll be helping some in our town.

Questions on the current state of the industry or want to know more about our expertise? Feel free to reach out for more information.