Of all the tidbits of advice and information to come up in conversation with restaurants over the last few weeks, “communicate with your customers” is across the board the most popular mantra uttered.
There’s just one problem. In a restaurant industry currently powered by off-premises orders largely fulfilled by third-party services like Grubhub and DoorDash, restaurants can’t communicate directly with their customers because they have no data on who those people actually are.
One restaurant tech cofounder and CEO — namely Scott Absher of ShiftPixy — believes now is the time for restaurants to rethink the way their approach to customer data. Among other things, the crisis stemming from the novel coronavirus should be a wakeup call for these folks about how they treat their customer data — and how willingly they part with it.
Recently over the phone, he noted restaurants should “own those relationships” with customers and that “they need to rethink how they’re connecting digitally with their customers.”
Say a restaurant wants to promote pickup orders, which unlike third-party delivery can actually make restaurants a little money right now. Said restaurant might even offer some special deals or promotions for customers who order through the businesses own mobile app and opt to pick up the order. Trouble is, if the restaurant has left most of its off-premises management to Grubhub, it won’t have a way of communicating those deals in the first place. Customers may not even know the restaurant has its own mobile app that’s an alternative to Grubhub.
Absher, who spends a lot of time talking to restaurants and has of late heard “some really frightened conversations,” believes now is the time to rethink both the concept of restaurant tech and the role customer data plays within it.
He calls this “destiny technology.” Websites and mobile apps are real estate customers visit just as they would a brick-and-mortar location. They will form opinions about their overall experience and share those opinions with others, and a restaurant should have access to that feedback much as they would have had to a comment card in the ‘80s.
“This is your new frontier,” Absher says. “It’s just as important as [physical] location is.”
ShiftPixy has some skin in this game. Outside of being a platform for restaurants to find on-demand workers to fill shifts and combat turnover, the company also helps restaurants get up and running with delivery. Its own architecture runs behind the scenes of a restaurant’s in-house mobile app, which means instead of relying on Grubhub et al for delivery, restaurants can pay ShiftPixy a flat fee to manage the technical logistics of delivery orders and provide drivers. More important, because orders go through a restaurant’s own app, those businesses are keeping their own data.
The debate over who should own restaurant customer data isn’t new; COVID-19 just intensified it.
Right now, of course, many restaurants are just struggling to keep their doors open in some capacity. But with every new story that suggests an abuse of power on the part of third-party delivery companies, the question of who gets to own restaurant customer data (including menu prices, in some cases) becomes ever more important. And with mobile orders expected to proliferate in the post-pandemic restaurant industry, expect an uptick in solutions that promote native restaurant apps and offer businesses more control over their own data.