• Eng. Mohammad Fouad Al Jamal

How QSR (Quick Serve Restaurants) can adapt to the new reality

QSRs are the most avantgarde industry model when it comes to adapting to new realities even before the pandemic began, evolving key aspects of the customer experience. Digital kiosks replaced the old cashier, drive-thru displays became digital and interactive. Digital transformation? Check.

Many franchisees also improved their delivery offering and mobile ordering experience to serve customers where it was convenient for them, cue cloud kitchens. But H&S concerns due to the pandemic have forced brands to rethink even these digital innovations, in addition to how these restaurants will adapt to the new normal in the months and years ahead.

Like most industries, QSRs need to change their business model and operations now if they are to be successful in the post-pandemic world. Here are four important points for businesses to consider to navigate the crisis and hopefully thrive in the new normal.

Implement strategies to ensure customer and team safety

Make safety of customers and workforce the top priority when positioning your business for success during and after the crisis is over. Many customers will use drive-thrus to minimize human interaction, but for restaurants without drive-thrus, businesses should keep in mind that when customers do come back it likely won’t be business as usual.

It is unlikely that consumers will go to restaurants like they did pre-COVID-19. Packaged utensils and sealable bags, for example, will be necessary to ensure safety and convey that nobody has touched the food on its way to the customer. Customers’ economic fears will compound safety concerns. Many people will be unemployed because of the pandemic and more price sensitive. They will be seeking more affordable or “budget menu” options to make it worth venturing to a restaurant during uncertain times.

Owners should also recognize that their teams are now considered essential employees. They are under new-found stress, concerned about themselves and their families’ health. Having a reduced menu is one way to help simplify operations in the near-term to focus on tackling other challenges like sanitation, delivery and profit margins.

Tell your customers what you have changed to keep them safe

Restaurants need to be fearless in ensuring customers of the measures they implemented to ensure cleanliness, sterilization and how they’re protecting them in the face of COVID-19.

Owners need to leverage what they have to execute and operate differently going forward. Think about retraining and redeploying some of your team to focus on delivery which will be much cheaper than using a third-party, and you also have more control of the overall customer experience.

It’s also being transparent about the supply chain and traceability, where is the food coming from, how is the food getting to the customer and how is it being handled? Restaurants need to emphasize on the changes they have made and get that message out there.

Implementing contactless payments

When visiting a restaurant, customers will be worried about touching too many surfaces to get their food, including payment. For restaurants with digital kiosks, owners must manage operations to ensure cleanliness of touch screens and that there’s no risk of a customer contracting the virus from these surfaces. Other brands with order counters will need to inovate to practice social distancing between customers and staff. Some businesses even implemented automatic systems where the guests enter the cash in a machine and get the change through the same method, eliminating all personal contact.

The ability to use contactless or touchless systems like mobile wallets such as Apple Pay or Google Pay will be highly valued, along with delivery and digital channels like the restaurant’s ordering platform

The importance of streamlining operations

It’s also more critical to have a direct-to-consumer business at a time when third-party apps like Deliveroo or Zomato eat up anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the total ticket cost and cause margins to take a hit. This should be a priority for owners whose business wasn’t primarily delivery before, but will be going forward.

The idea of ghost kitchens has been out there for quite some time. Within this storefront that now has no seating, I could operate burger, Mexican and pizza restaurants, for instance, with my only channel being delivery. Ghost kitchen entrants pose a threat to the traditional QSR and will have a competitive advantage.

The new normal for QSRs

Safety will be one of customers’ main concern in a post-COVID-19 world and they’ll be expecting brands to provide proof that they’ll be safe when ordering food. Restaurants should address customers’ anxieties by expanding their digital channels and owning the entire customer experience from food preparation to delivery. For some brands this means radically adapting their businesses to be primarily delivery or take away and being able to redeploy resources to respond to new trends and local guidelines.

Being forthcoming and trustworthy will help convince customers that QSRs are worthy of their loyalty and business when there is so much uncertainty around their own income and the economy, businesses that quickly adapt to customers’ digital needs and habits will gain their loyalty and trust.