The catering industry has been one of the hardest hit by the restrictions imposed by the various lockdowns, According to FIPE data, the catering sector recorded a loss of €37.7 billion in 2020, and the hardest blow to the sector came in the fourth quarter, at the end of the highly profitable Christmas period, when losses exceeded €14 billion, with revenues down by 57.1%. The spectre of bankruptcy led to a kind of ‘arms race’, which translated into an urgent and immediate acceleration in the processes of integrating technological solutions, such as to force many businesses to make large investments.
According to the latest survey from the B2C E-commerce Observatory of the Milan Polytechnic and Netcomm, in the new scenario generated by the pandemic, many physical shops and numerous businesses in the food sector approached the e-commerce world for the first time. However, we should not view the technological leap of the last months as a temporary digression, but as what has been imposed on the catering sector to ensure its survival and which –owing to the behaviour of consumers who in recent months have developed new habits associated to the use of digital solutions which they do not intend to give up– is inevitably here to stay.
Restaurateurs are faced with the task of making the technological implementations adopted during the lockdowns communicate with the physical point of sale, inextricably linked to the habit of ‘eating out’, an attitude to which, despite the rapid growth in out-of-home consumptions, Italians do not want to do without. In fact, people can’t wait to return to have a meal in their favourite restaurant, but to do so they should not feel forced to go through an obstacle course in attempting to protect their health. The new normal will see the restaurant become a place where digital solutions and physical experience integrate and interact effectively with the aim of optimizing the customer experience, improving and speeding up the continuity between the kitchen and the dining room and ensuring the best possible safety standards.
The short-term future of retail catering is therefore touchless and digital, to help deliver and upgrade the customer’s experience and meet the demand for technological solutions tailored to his expectations. In the restaurant of the future, physical intermediation will be progressively phased out from the less enjoyable steps of eating in a restaurant, like the moment of ordering, whose waiting times could be annoyling long if the restaurant is full, or standing in the queue to pay the bill, thereby increasing the possibility for the dining room staff to interact with the customer where the interpersonal relationship is essential (as for example the presentation of a wine list), due to the greater time available as a result of the improved efficiency of the most standard and lower value-added processes.
Technology offers solutions that speed up these steps, allowing the customer to sit at the table without worrying about anything other than enjoying the food. This can only be achieved through enabling all digital channels and a mobile-first approach, from digital menus to self-ordering apps, up to pay-at-table services. The restaurateur thus obtains the invaluable result of increasing the efficiency of the organization of the point of sale and offer a safe and pleasant experience. Furthermore, thanks to the use of digital technology, it will be possible to keep constantly under control the dining room in terms of table occupancy, with the result of reducing waiting times for those who want to consume at the table, and collect data on customer preferences and tastes.
As for take-away and delivery solutions, after many restaurants have activated and implemented home delivery and take-away services during the lockdowns, these will continue to be part of our everyday life but will be improved to optimize costs and delivery times. More and more solutions will be implemented and adopted for ordering via social media, alongside apps for home delivery, or digital touchpoints for convenient ordering on-site. All in low-touch mode to ensure maximum safety and efficiency and reduce waiting times as much as possible by eliminating queues, thanks to digital payment methods integrated into the ordering systems. The food becomes again what it should be: a special treat, along with the pleasure of enjoying it comfortably, whether at home or in a restaurant.