Personalization and the restaurant experience

With rapid developments in the sophistication of technology offerings in recent years, consumers have higher expectations than ever regarding personalization. In the U.S. adults are strapped for time, working more hours now than at any point in history, and the limited time these consumers do have will increasingly be given to brands that deliver an experience that is convenient and tailored to customers’ specific needs. Silicon Valley has been the first to answer this call for personalization, with digital native companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify rapidly conquering their respective markets by offering consumers an experience that is individualized and puts ease-of-use above all else.

But while the personalization push has been led by companies operating primarily in digital spaces, consumers look for these same individualized experiences in physical spaces as well. McDonald’s recent acquisition of Dynamic Yield indicates that restaurants, too, will need to innovate toward hyper-personal experiences for their consumers if they wish to compete. In particular, small and medium size restaurant brands (<250 units), that may not have the same resources as a company like McDonald’s for large-scale acquisitions, will need to be thoughtful in partnering with cutting-edge tech companies that can help propel them along in their personalization journey.

Given the clear importance of personalization in the restaurant space, there are three key points on which a restaurant brand should focus in providing an individualized experience to guests that will keep them coming back to your restaurants: an ordering process that is designed for guests’ needs, reduced friction in customer tracking with facial recognition, and data-leveraged product development and marketing.

An ordering process that is designed for guests’ needs

While ten years ago customers might have found it strange for software to predict their cravings better than they did, today customers expect this level of intelligence from their tech. Spotify knows what song befits a sunday afternoon stroll on a rainy street. Amazon knows that a cart with olive oil and onions needs garlic. Consumers turn to software to plan their vacations and even help them meet their future spouses, so it is not surprising that they similarly expect restaurants to tailor the ordering process to their needs. Physical technology such as digital menu boards and self-ordering kiosks provide spaces for tech-driven personalization in the restaurant space. However, choosing the right software to power this hardware is key in ensuring an individualized experience for guests. Look for ordering software that makes recommendations based on your guests’ past experiences and tailors each step of the experience to their needs.

Reduced friction in customer tracking with facial recognition

There is, of course, no better feeling than returning to your favorite restaurant and being greeted by the same face that has greeted you for years. But with labor turnover rates in the QSR and fast casual space notoriously high and still increasing, this feels like an idyllic picture of the past for many restaurants. However, advanced technologies can re-introduce the ease associated with ordering from a server or cashier who remembers you and your favorite order. More than this, though, technologies like facial recognition also allow restaurants to collect data even from customers who have not signed up for loyalty programs, enriching customer data in new ways. Further, customers tracked outside of loyalty programs can be encouraged in creative ways to be brought into the fold of loyalty programs, for example by allowing customers to bank points before registering for the loyalty program and receiving their points upon signup.

Data-leveraged product development and marketing

But how can all this new data be used? Maybe you’ll predict the next super food, or see that consumers are cutting back on sugar before all the headlines in the media. Or perhaps you’ll see that, despite what media reports claim, your sales of glazed crullers are in fact higher than they’ve ever been, and this surge is sales is driven by primarily by men in their late sixties, and men who buy crullers tend to be some of your most loyal customers, so cutting crullers from the menu would be a costly error. When you have the data, you can cut out the guessing. Finding ways to allow customers to seamlessly share their information as part of their dining experience opens a whole world of data-driven product development and marketing. Brands that are innovative in this space will continue to expand their lead on competitors that fail to evolve. The benefits of a sophisticated data-backed operation—guess-free product development, precise audience metrics, etc.—are simply too powerful to ignore.

Personalization Matters: Here’s Why

As seen in RMagazine Apr. 11, 2017 (

As you walk into your neighborhood QSR, you’re greeted by name. Followed by “The usual?” The server behind the counter flashes a smile, gets your order underway and you’re out the door in record time.

Right there, the guest is given three reasons to come back again: the friendly service; the personalized experience of a remembered order and the speed and efficiency of stopping in. For the operator, they  have a satisfied, committed guest and perhaps even a brand evangelist—someone who will also spread the amazing work of what you do.

Once, this was the norm. Now it’s a dream that most operators aspire to, but think impossible to attain.

Personalization gives your guests three reasons to come back again: Friendly service, personalized experience and efficiency.

At the heart of what enables this system to run smoothly is personalization. But if asking your staff to memorize names, faces and orders is unrealistic, what other solutions do we have?

In the age of technology, smartphones and apps, new tech can often be construed as impersonal— the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. However, there are companies out there that have developed creative solutions. Here  are a few case studies on why you should pay attention to personalization.

Higher Profits

If you’ve ever shopped on Amazon, you’re likely to have created an account—and then Amazon starts learning what you like. Unlike most other digital stores, Amazon (at least for me) has an uncanny ability to recommend items that I would find interesting. By suggesting products I would otherwise have ordered, it drives home the upsell.

As reported in Fortune even back in 2012, personalized recommendations represented a near 30% increase in sales from one feature. However let’s be clear, this is not the same as asking “Do you want fries with that?” if your customer is buying a burger. Amazon provides a specific set of items that will appeal to the guest.

It’s akin to offering a salad to your health-conscious guest instead of offering fries, as well as  a new lemonade that they never even knew about.  Because each recommendation is relevant, their customers rarely tune out to what the personalization feature suggests. In fact the opposite is much more likely: guests increase purchases when the options shown are tailored to their tastes.

Better Service “IRL” too!

Personalization can exist “in real life ” too, outside the digital sphere. Take Disney’s Magic Bands for example. Disney’s Magic Bands are a type of wristband advertised as a convenience to guests vacationing at Disney Parks—they can record purchases and unlock your specific hotel room. More importantly,  they also allow Disney to provide another level of personalized service.

The hosts will greet you by name when you arrive at a restaurant, know where you’re sitting if you pre-ordered a special meal. Using the wristband can even grant you special access to rides throughout the day. With a little help from technology, Disney creates an incredible experience for users of the Magic Band while simultaneously gaining insight into their guests’ habits.

Doesn’t a mobile app solve this?

In the hospitality industry, we frequently hear the desire for a mobile app. Yet only a handful of establishments have the brand equity and capital to launch an app successfully. In 2016, the average number of new apps downloaded, per person, was 0. Even worse, once you’ve convinced your guests to download it, 80% of users never open the app a second time.

What can we do?

We at Bite believe that personalization matters, and we’ve developed a creative solution to help you re-introduce it at your concepts. While we love the capability and the idea of mobile apps to give guests the flexibility and personalization features, there is a steep hurdle to overcome in guest adoption. Instead of developing an off-premise solution, we believed, much like Disney, there should be magic when guests step into your restaurant. It should be an experience that they can remember, and describe. To that end, we’ve developed intelligent kiosks, designed to give each and every guest a personalized experience. That not only starts with our kiosks but can also amplify your staff, freeing them up from behind the counter to actively greet and provide attentive service to your guests.

Our intelligent kiosks can detect and recognize your guests and remember their order history. With our baked-in learning algorithm, the Bite kiosks can learn their preferences, and offer them tailored recommendations and drive targeted upsell opportunities. We’ve also created a robust interface allowing operators to introduce offers to specific guests – say guests who are regulars on Wednesday only – or select a demographic to test a new LTO on.

We believe that personalization through guest recognition will enable new and memorable experiences.


On Apps: Recode 2016; Applause 2016