Restaurants: The Lasting Power of Technology + Human Engagement to Drive Growth

According to a recent National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey – May 2020:

“73 percent of restaurant operators said they expect their sales volume in six months will be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year. Only 17 percent of operators think their sales in six months will be back above year-ago levels.

On the segment level, operators in the tableservice segments are the most pessimistic about improving business conditions. Ninety-two percent of fine dining operators and 84 percent of casual dining operators expect their sales in six months will still remain below previous-year levels.

Although operators in the limited-service segments are somewhat more optimistic, fully one-half of quick-service operators and 42 percent of fast casual operators do not think their sales will recover by late-2020.”

Across the portfolio of Ansira clients, the team has been advising brand partners within automotive, restaurant, retail, CPG, and technology regarding the anticipated economic re-opening and long-term recovery timeframe. While there is no crystal ball, learnings are becoming evident, which help guide long-term strategic opportunities for creating the best possible customer experience and sales potential.

Transformation, in the form of people, process, and technology happened overnight across a wide variety of industry verticals; especially restaurants.

Restaurants, whether a QSR, fast-casual, or even Michelin-starred, all pivoted operations in the early spring. Our observation is that those who were most successful were able to innovate, communicate, and engage with customers due to a combination of technology + human capability. Technology powering behind-the-scenes data insights and analysis, omni-channel customer engagement and communications, and operational performance drove insights, innovation, and real-time customer engagement. But as equally as important, was the human side of the equation.

Without people, both internally across the brand organization and those who work in the local restaurant, the ability to keep doors open, execute on innovations and new offerings, and serve a need in the community would not have happened. It’s the “people” part of people, process, and technology that has allowed fast-casual restaurants, like Panera Bread, to pivot in these times.

Below is an excerpt of a previously recorded fireside chat with Shawn Utke, Senior Vice President, Customer Engagement Management-Ecommerce at Panera Bread, a CX and Loyalty client of Ansira’s. I joined Shawn as moderator, and together we delved deep into the connection between technology and people.

Kelly Jo Sands: You [Panera Bread] are an example of a brand who pivoted quickly on a lot of fronts, driving business through the off-premise shift and supporting local communities during a really tough time. I’m excited to have you share a few highlights of what your marketing team has done with regard to that people, process, work we previously mentioned.

Shawn Utke: A lot of things we did were fast and cross-functional, whether it was standing up a grocery concept or deploying different promotions like family feed or curbside pickup. The Marketing team specifically had to rework the MyPanera communications to be more relevant. We had to get more serious about our internal interactions as well and implemented daily standups, 2-3 times a day, 7 days a week.

Kelly Jo Sands: The concept of needing to be agile to deploy both content and messaging that is hyper relevant, especially as things were changing day-to-day…talk to me a little bit about the infrastructure required to make some of that happen.

Shawn Utke: It’s like most things, especially in digital, it’s all around the people, process, and technology, so we partner closely with Ansira to deploy a lot of our emails. We also leverage Adobe Campaign, to push those communications out from a platform perspective. The process was centered around 7 days a week, multiple times a day pulses to optimize against changing dynamics. We tried to pivot as needed, to really figure out what mattered and leverage the analytics we were seeing and where our business was changing; and then adapt as quickly as possible. We’re lucky enough to have the technology stack we’ve built over the years and the collaboration with our partners externally, as well as our internal IT folks. I think that integration has helped us because overnight, our business went from growing to shutting down our local cafes, pivoting to drive-thru and delivery only, and having to find other solutions to thrive.

While it is hard to prioritize digital transformation and a focus on people, process, and technology when the sales forecast is bleak, it is important to consider the potential that the investment in digital tools and technology, along with people has, long-term, on your business. Additionally, it might be the right strategic opportunity to cement your presence in the local community for years to come.

Source: Ansira. Panera Bread. Adobe. QSR Emergency Preparedness & Response webinar and fireside chat. 16 April 2020.

By Kelly Jo Sands

Kelly Jo leads Ansira’s strategic partner strategy and focuses on sales enablement and growth across martech integrations, performance marketing, and loyalty marketing.