September 22, 2020

The Power of the Human Experience in Building Your Restaurant Brand

Zoom meetings, FaceTime dates, digital happy hours, virtual conferences – the global pandemic has pulled these fringe digital communication methods into the mainstream. The longer the coronavirus lingers, the deeper they become entrenched in our culture, slowly pulling us apart and making us more reliant on technology to interact.

The restaurant industry is even testing out the idea of bringing technology into the kitchen and into the customer experience. Flippy is a robot that can cook and will only cost you three bucks an hour. Miso Robotics, the company that produces this futuristic burger flipper, touts the robot as a way to cut labor costs by automating work. They claim it can even increase profits by 300%.

If you think Flippy, and any other artificial intelligence for the kitchen, is the answer to your labor challenges, think again. Taking the human out of the customer experience could cost you more than it benefits your bottom line. Restaurants are at a point of inflection with their customers and bringing technology into the mix has the ability to further complicate the matter. New data shows that people are experiencing “tech angst,” a state of being worried about technology’s impact and a desire for its conveniences.

The emergence of “tech angst” and what it means for your restaurant brand

When the global pandemic began, people quickly isolated, socially distanced, and wore masks when they were forced to have contact with people outside their immediate family. Although our newfound reliance on technology has taken center stage recently, this has long been a growing trend. The majority of respondents (63%) in a new study say they are “constantly connected online.” That is a 34% jump in only seven years.

As technology has become more accessible and democratized, its exclusivity has diminished. Being tied to a device all the time is part of popular culture. Having a smartphone is no longer a status symbol; it’s practically the cost of entry to function in today’s society. Their hold on humanity is startling as well with some 55% of people say they “feel more insecure” without their mobile phone than their wallet.

If you want to elevate your restaurant brand beyond the noise of mass culture and accomplish something unique, the key lies not in having a larger digital footprint, but balancing technology with humanity.

Technology isn’t always the best way to connect with restaurant customers

Our world is more connected than ever. There is no debate about that. What takes us seconds in today’s digital world used to take months. However, the more seamlessly we communicate, the more resistant people are becoming to those abilities. Where brands must really take note are within the premium and luxury markets, where customers are actively pushing back against technology. Sixty-one percent of them said they are “concerned about the internet” and its ability to erode privacy.

This is an especially easy trap to slip into during the current pandemic. Forcing customers to download an app to order or get rewards, asking them to opt-in to your newsletter, or constantly asking customers to follow you, or like and share on social media all exaggerated “tech angst” and push customers away from your brand. The idea of intentionally spending time away from screens is growing in popularity as the pandemic increases people’s reliance on technology. After a month of reported increases in screen behaviors, surveyed respondents said they started spending more time cooking, reading the newspaper and magazines.

This data offers a glimpse into a post-COVID world and how important human interaction will be for customers.

Creating meaningful connections with your restaurant customers

For restaurants, forging deep, meaningful connections with consumers can be challenging because of the cyclical nature and newly socially distant expectations of the dining experience. Sure, there are the “regulars” that come into locally-owned restaurants where the servers know their names and orders by heart. The reality for most national chains is very different though. When ordering, delivering, and cooking are as impersonal as ever, standing out to the customer can be difficult. Emphasizing the human experience, storytelling, and brand touch points will all help your brand carve out its niche in an ever-homogenous industry.

Tell your brand’s story to bring people into a community

One way to connect with your customers is to communicate the humanity involved in your brand. People want to see your brand’s personality, connections, and social values. In the past eight years, for example, the number of people who said they would buy something just to be part of a community grew 36%. Consumers want to know that the things they buy are tied to someone’s story, someone’s hard work and dedication. If you get all your milk products from a family-owned dairy farm, tell your customers that. If your dessert menu came straight out of your grandmother’s cookbook, be sure to let people know that. In telling your story, your brand becomes part of their story.

Consumers are increasingly seeking human connections to the products and services they buy. Understanding where products came from can help build those relationships. Giving your brand a human face, name, and story humanizes it and sets it apart from an increasing number of other brands in the marketplace.

Retain human interaction at key touch points

The pandemic forced restaurants to limit human interaction. Ordering was relegated to the internet. Servers were taken out of the equation entirely, as food delivery services took over. DoorDash and UberEats doubled their year-to-year sales and set new profit records with their contactless door-to-door services in the past few months.

Now as restaurants begin to reopen, it is time to rethink the customers’ purchase journey and how to interject human interaction at key touchpoints. In fact, the data shows that human connection is more relevant than ever in the purchase process. More people are becoming brand advocates because of a positive human interaction,  such as great customer service, being part of a community, or having a personal relationship. Customers are also demanding these marketing techniques more. On the contrary, providing high-quality products and even discounting have faltered slightly.

Restaurant brands need to put the human back into the purchase process. Even during a pandemic, there are ways to connect with your customers. Put a note inside their delivery bag. If a mistake is made with their order, graciously correct it even if it was ordered through a third-party app. Respond to social media comments and messages and have your marketing team tell your restaurant brand’s story through social posts. The promise of human interaction is becoming a value add that customers will pay a premium for.

Use a “back to basics” approach with a mix of experience marketing

Restaurants can successfully engage their customers by using experience marketing and getting back to basics. In an increasingly complicated world, many people are yearning for the simplicity of life’s pleasures – a good meal with friends, a romantic night out with a partner. The authentic, humanized elements of food and sharing a meal existed long before commercialized chains, and the connections they provide are central to the human experience. The data shows this is especially true in mature economic markets like the United States, where some 60% of people say they haven’t experienced a culture until they’ve tried authentic food.

Part of experience marketing is giving every person the sense that they are important and that you can offer them something they cannot get anywhere else. Marketing meal and experience customization can show your clients your ability and desire to personalize their experience. Within the “experience economy,” which includes dining out and tourism, the majority of people in all types of economies prefer picking the parts of their experience instead of purchasing a pre-produced one. Capitalize on this trend by touting your ability to tailor your brand experience to every customer’s needs.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, the value of human connection rises equally. The thought of a robot that can cut costs and improve efficiency might seem intoxicating at first, but the toll it might take on your brand’s ability to give customers what they really want will suffer. The pandemic has shown us the cruel irony of technology – the thing that is supposed to connect us while simplifying our lives has in fact done the opposite. Humans are less connected than ever and leading more complicated lives. Cutting through the noise requires brands to interject their humanity into their storytelling, bring people into a community, put human touch points back into the purchasing journey, and personalize experiences. By showing customers the people behind the brand, you will become more than a business to them. You will become a trusted friend.

TLDR:

  • As people become more reliant on technology, the need for human connection in restaurant marketing increases.
  • After using more technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, people are beginning to actively distance themselves from it.
  • The key first step to putting humanity in your marketing is learning the art of storytelling, showing customers the people behind the brand, and giving them a sense of community once they purchase the brand.