Hospitality is about making people feel welcome and valued. What role should technology play in a human-centric industry that focuses on creating memorable experiences?
At last week’s NRA Show in Chicago, OpenTable’s CEO Christa Quarles participated in a fireside chat and panel with luminaries in the restaurant industry. Moderated by NRA Chief Innovation Officer Phil Kafarakis, the panel featured Jennifer Bell of Lettuce Entertain You; Kevin Boehm of Boka Restaurant Group; Lauren Hobbs of Union Square Hospitality Group; and Tim Kirkland of Renegade Hospitality.
Here, we share a few insights we gleaned from the conversation on how restaurants can use technology to enhance (not seek to replace) the hospitality they provide.
1. “Productizing” restaurant data.
“An important part of our future is productizing our data,” said Christa, admitting: “We need to get better at communicating our learnings and big data to our customers.”
For example, we looked at one restaurant group’s data and found that their guests who booked via OpenTable averaged about a 9% higher check than their walk-in guests. That’s an important insight when restaurants are deciding which tables to offer online and which ones to save for walk-ins. After being acquired by Priceline we have an even bigger opportunity to access global traveler data and support restaurants across the world.
2. Sharing guest information and feedback.
To ensure success of their technology tools, restaurants first need to figure out exactly what they want to get of out of those tools, Lauren emphasized. “It’s important to Union Square Hospitality Group to get better guest feedback,” she said, adding that OpenTable had been helpful for collecting notes on diners.
Kevin shared his own “Aha!” moment for OpenTable. Sixteen years ago he made a reservation at Eleven Madison Park, and the host called his company ahead of his visit to find out how to pronounce his last name. Kevin was impressed to receive an experience that was personalized just for him. “We need to be little CIA agents,” he joked.
Tim agreed, adding, “The problem is that service and experience has been homogenized. How do I walk in the door and have my experience feel unique?” The answer: relevant data and information relating to your guests.
3. Bringing restaurants the right diners.
A huge part of OpenTable’s strategy is to bring restaurants the right diners when they want them and, ultimately, generate more revenue for the restaurants. Christa pointed to the new Guest Center iPhone app, which gives owners and managers summaries of covers and shifts. Her future vision is to grow these tools to empower those stakeholders to promote their restaurants to diners with the push of a button.
“The notion that OpenTable is a venue for a ‘decided diner’ isn’t accurate,” she said, adding that 50 to 60% of the time that diners land on a restaurant’s profile page, they continue to search for other restaurants from there.
4. Integrating with the rest of the business.
The most successful technologies are the ones that communicate with multiple team members and help streamline the business, not encumber it. Lauren said, “Marketing for restaurants is different than it is for other companies — the goals are operations-driven.” Good internal communication throughout internal teams — including servers, accountants, chefs, and others — creates better experiences for guests.
Integrating with other technologies in the restaurant is also critical to success. Jennifer noted that delivery has become a significant business for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, but they can’t control the experience after the food leaves the restaurant because their delivery platform isn’t integrated with their POS. Christa added that her objective with OpenTable’s payment product is to create one homogenized market through mobile and integrate OpenTable with POS systems widely.
5. Thinking through the entire experience.
At Lettuce Entertain You, Jennifer said, the team operates by a system they’ve dubbed “PCP.” It starts with Precision, meaning access to accurate reservation information that sets them up for success. C is for Connectivity, which allows them to connect with diners instantly. The final P is Platform: the right tools and technology to hear from diners, learn about their experience, and give them the experiences they’re looking for next time around. It’s a perfect arc that starts before the diner first walks in the door and continues every time they visit a restaurant.
“Our goal is to help you connect with diners before, during, and after the dining experience,” Christa said. Before, we help diners find their perfect table with innovations like the Discover tab in our latest app redesign and even surfacing Eater lists and other insider tips. After, we provide the tools to record diners’ preferences and give them exceptional, personalized experiences every time.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth at the NRA Show! Read more insights from the weekend here.