Guest experience has always been – and remains – the single greatest differentiator for restaurants.
Those who are in the hospitality industry take pride in serving food and drink to guests, with the goal of pleasing them, hopefully eliciting a smile, and enticing them to want to come back. Guests come back when they feel welcome, taken care of, and delighted. This is how restaurants build authentic loyalty – through an experience that leaves the guest feeling appreciated.
Guests are conditioned to expect a more delightfully human experience as the price of the experience increases. Higher end restaurants employ an array of complex processes and systems to meet and hopefully exceed guest expectations – from researching guests online, to keeping notes in OpenTable, to hiring and training their staff to listen and empathize with guests.
As time has passed, technology has made it easier for all types of restaurants to personalize their guest experience. Almost every guest has a smartphone in their pocket. Beacons can detect the arrival of repeat customers, providing their name, picture, and preferences. Algorithms can store and learn that guest’s tastes and predict their new favorite dish or a wine they might love. All automatic and real-time, without human intervention.
Technology and Authenticity
Rightly, many restaurateurs wonder, “does technology make the guest experience less authentic?” A valid question, and in our view the answer is, “it depends.” Danny Meyer says there are two parts to delivering an authentic guest experience: the heart and the mind. Both need to be engaged, and it’s easy to tell if they’re not. It’s obvious when someone’s heart is engaged: they’re empathetic, they ask good questions, they listen, they observe. Even if the server has no background on you, the experience feels like you could be meeting a new friend for the first time. Someone with their mind engaged has the history on you, they know a guest’s likes / dislikes, and they know how you want to be treated. Technology can only do so much to enhance the heart, but does wonders to enhance the mind. Context of a relationship matters, and technology facilitates context. Carrying context across boundaries of staff members, human memory, and the four-walls of a restaurant location is invaluable.
In addition to authenticity at the employee level, there’s another level of authenticity that customers now expect from companies. Customers today expect that companies communicate internally. How would you feel if you called an airline’s customer service department, told them your story of how your bags were lost, and then they passed you on to a new department to whom you had to retell the whole situation. Frustrated, right? Who would you fault in that situation? The second customer service rep? No. You’d fault the company for not investing in systems that enable their reps to communicate. In the restaurant business, we see this manifest through questions such as, “Have you dined with us before?” Statements like these make the guest feel like a number.
Wisely’s tying the restaurant and technology threads together. (Check out our Guided Tours)
What could an authentic, empathetic, technology enabled guest experience look like – before, during, and after the dining experience?
During the Dining Experience
Imagine a guest arriving at a restaurant. During their visit, the staff will collect information – the raw material for an enhanced guest experience. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn more: what the guest says, where they sit, how many people are in their party, how much they spend, or what they order.
Historically, this information was sometimes keyed into a system (OpenTable or POS), potentially remembered by the staff, but often it slipped through a restaurant’s fingers.
Wisely automatically captures anything that touches a computer: transaction amounts, dates, items purchased, number of people in a party, server, table number, etc. To capture information that never touches a computer, staff can easily take notes via a smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch. Across multi-unit restaurant groups, information captured at one is captured for all. Institutional knowledge of a guest increases with each visit, and is extended to all repeat customers, not just the top guests that the staff can remember.
So Wisely captures data. Great. How does the right information get disseminated to the right person at the right time?
Upon the guest’s arrival, with no action required from anyone, Wisely sends a push notification to the designated staff members: managers, hosts, bartenders, and so on. When a staff member swipes the notification, they can access relevant information about the guest: a picture, name, visit history, preferences, prior feedback, and more. From there, any staff member can deliver hospitality with the relevant information on a guest. Notifications occur for any guest with the Wisely app: walk-ins, guests with reservations, and guests who are party to a larger reservation made under a different name.
At the end of the visit, within milliseconds of the guest’s card being swiped, Wisely will send a push notification to the guest asking for feedback on the visit. If the guest quickly submits sub-par feedback, Wisely will alert the staff, so that they have a chance to communicate with the guest before they leave the restaurant, thereby addressing the issue while it is still fresh in their minds.
If the feedback is submitted after the fact, restaurants receive the feedback and have an opportunity to communicate directly with the guest through the Wisely app. So that the staff doesn’t lose sight of previous issues, each guest’s feedback gets added to the restaurant’s guest profile. The next time the guest arrives, the staff will see what the guest has experienced before.
Most importantly, all the guest needs to do is put an app on their phone, and their phone in their pocket. The rest is magic.
Before the Dining Experience
In addition to helping restaurant staff personalize the guest experience, Wisely plays a role in getting guests to visit more frequently via preferred guest programs. Wisely’s take on preferred guest programs was inspired by the world’s top hospitality and retail brands – Starwood, Fairmont, Sephora, Neiman Marcus, and Delta. These programs are different than traditional loyalty programs in one important aspect: they unlock unique experiences that enhance the brand and grow profit.
As an example, Delta recently launched a program to upgrade certain fliers to private jets for a modest extra fee. Frequent fliers will be upgraded to private jets, skip security, and receive complimentary onboard catering. Delta wins in this example, as it creates the aspiration for its millions of SkyMiles members, ensures that people on the cusp of earning Diamond status will fly Delta exclusively, and since the upgrades are for “dead legs” when planes were flying empty anyway, they’ll earn more profit. A win for everyone, even the people who did not get upgraded to the private jet, but now have some extra legroom on or were on standby for the original flight.
Since many restaurant goers are also members of airline and hotel reward programs, one might wonder why preferred guest programs haven’t made their way into restaurants. In our experience, there are two central reasons for that. First, traditional restaurant loyalty programs were nothing more than margin and brand destroying discount schemes: spend $100, get $10 back. When restaurant margins are 10%, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Second, creating the infrastructure to execute a guest experience-focused preferred guest program is costly and often not the core capability of a restaurant group. Wisely solves both by creating custom preferred guest programs for each restaurant concept (see examples of Junoon, Corkbuzz, Slurping Turtle, Mani Osteria) and delivering them for a reasonable monthly fee.
Custom preferred guest programs (aka loyalty programs) are built around two important variables. First, what is unique about the establishment (i.e. killer patio, beverage program, or a unique culinary approach). Second, what are the business objectives for the restaurant (i.e. grow lunch business, sell higher end wines, drive revenue on slower days). With those two inputs, we create a program for each restaurant.
After the Dining Experience
Ultimately, Wisely is a learning system that gets smarter as time passes.
Perhaps the biggest promise of Wisely is that we help restaurants consistently improve with each passing visit. The experience gets more personal, and management learns what truly causes customers to visit more frequently and spend more.
Wisely makes restaurants more resilient to staff changes. Imagine hiring a new staff member. Instead of having to spend months learning repeat customers by face and name, the staff can quickly search the faces, names, and preferences of top guests. Plus, when they walk in, a staff member will get all the info they need on demand.
Wisely proactively identifies improvement opportunities. We can predict who’s happy and who’s not, based on how many guests are signed up, how much money is being spent, whether managers are using the app, whether guests are providing feedback, whether the feedback’s been responded to. If our Customer Success team spots issues in any of these variables, we intervene proactively to figure out what’s causing the problem and how we can help our partner fix it.
Jeff Bezos, CEO and Founder of Amazon, says, “If you double the number experiments you do in a year, you’ll double your inventiveness.” Wisely enables restaurants to test ideas, measure their effectiveness, and improve over time.
In The End
Dining is an undeniably human experience. Families, friends, and colleagues deepen their bonds over meals. Everything in a restaurant should revolve around awareness of that fact.
Here’s to thinking that technology can abstract away the noise, and allow staff and guests alike to focus on delivering and enjoying a more delightfully human experience.
We’re proud to be at your service,
Mike, Tyler, and the entire Wisely team