Drive-thru innovation and customer experience were the focus of a panel discussion at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit held this month in Nashville.

| by Mandy Wolf Detwiler — editor-in-chief, Networld Media Group

Customer experience, expectations and challenges along with transformative technologies and innovation were the focus of a panel discussion titled “Revving Up Your Drive-Thru Experience” at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Nashville, Tennessee this month. -this. The event, hosted by Networld Media Group, attracts top brand executives to share effective ways to grow franchises. Networld Media Group is the parent company of Fastcasual, Pizza Marketplace and QSRweb. The media company’s next event is a virtual pizza conference, the Pizza Leadership Virtual Summit, taking place on July 27.

Panelists included Jon Aiello, market president of Flynn Restaurant Group, parent company of a series of Taco Bells in the Midwest, Frances Allen, president and CEO of Checkers & Rally’s Drive-in Restaurants, Harris Khan, director Principal of Restaurant Excellence for Chipotle Mexican Grill, and John Ramsay, Vice President of Franchise Sales for Noodles & Company. Matt Umscheid, CEO of panel sponsor Envysion, moderated the roundtable.

The changing customer experience

Aiello said customer expectations haven’t changed much since the pre-pandemic days – accurate, friendly and efficient service. QSR players saw a natural increase in sales as dining halls closed and more people joined in for dining out. Customers had added stimulus money, which also added to the checkout.

Taco Bell has seen a lift in late-night dining, Aiello added, where 2 a.m. isn’t considered late. “The later you go in the night, the more opportunities there are, and that’s really what we’ve been focused on as a brand – capitalizing on late-night operations and late-night sales. “

Allen said drive-thru provides a contactless and safe method of picking up food, and how quickly brands have adopted the technology is also key. She thinks the restaurant industry has been slow to embrace technological change, and that is changing. Brands are meant to keep pace with technology.

Accuracy, speed and the right mix are key at Chipotle, where Khan said his company focuses on where customers can gain additional brand access. A few years ago, Chipotle considered adding drive-thru to its stores while realizing that it could be a logistical nightmare for customers to sit down at a drive-thru and order toppings for their bowls or burritos.

“What if we try to make it digital only and really try to revolutionize that experience?” Khan asked. They tested five Chipotlanes, where customers digitally order and pick up their orders from a drive-thru window. Today, 80% of new restaurants have a Chipotlane and there are more than 350 stores with ATMs.

Ramsay said at Noodles & Company, customer experience was measured by the interaction between the customer and the counter employee. This relationship has now disappeared as technology, especially online ordering, has grown in importance. There is a brief interaction with the drive-thru employee, then when the customer returns home, they look at what’s in the bag, how it’s wrapped, and if it’s hot.

Technology and innovation

Allen said the drive-thru employee is more than just a frontline staff member. He or she takes a customer’s order while expediting the order of the one in front. They are expected to be polite and have excellent customer interaction. “It’s amazing multitasking,” she said. “It takes a long time to train and it’s very, very stressful. And we asked them to do it very quickly.”

Checkers and Rally’s began working with voice control about 18 months ago, and rolling it out to company-owned stores. Many franchisees are also taking a look at it, Allen said, calling it “awesome” technology that reduces window stress and multitasking so that “when we use manual labor hours, we can strategically place them at the right place, which is enhancing that customer experience,” she said.

Getting the AI ​​voice to understand accents and keep speaking was paramount to his business. Today, the system is 98% accurate in the sense that only twice out of 100 does a human need to intervene to take an order or interact with the customer.

Aiello said he thinks geofencing and its connection to third-party delivery will become more prevalent. He thought it was a fad, but it stuck and flourished, especially late at night.

“What we found is that our brand is working with DoorDash, GrubHub, some of the third-party aggregators to do dynamic geofencing reengineering,” Aiello said. Drivers now sit in Taco Bell parking lots late and at night waiting for orders to arrive, much like taxis sit outside airports waiting to pick up passengers.

Khan said that vision sensors have only just entered the market, but will play a crucial role in the future in terms of order accuracy. This includes the ability to track ingredients as entries are built in real time.

“I think that’s also going to come into play when you think about deployment. If you think about the new workforce coming into our restaurants today, I feel like the years when a member of crew or a manager will want to learn and retain a thousand different things,” Khan said. “So how can we leverage technology to reduce all the information they need to consume and retain and help inform them. .on making the right decisions needed?”

By using AI and vision sensors, a restaurant can help deploy employees where there are bottlenecks and reduce friction for team members.

Finally, Ramsay said the relationship between technology and crew members is important. While Noodles & Company has increased pick-up windows and take-out meals, the technology is effective in monitoring the restaurant team, for example how long it takes them to prepare food. “Our problem right now is how do you teach tech that once we get 20 commands, we can’t keep throwing them every six minutes,” Ramsay said. “How do you solve this? Not at the expense of the crew member.”

Registration is now open for the Fast Casual Executive Summit to be held October 9-11 in Indianapolis. Click here to register.


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