The 40-Minute Lunch “Hour” – How Digital Can Transform the Guest Experience


Competition in the restaurant sector has always been tough. In the fast casual sector, it’s particularly brutal.

Consider the basic challenge of winning more customers. Fast casual chains aim to attract weekday lunch traffic with offers of daily specials and two-for-one appetizers. But can those temptations compete with the reality of today’s workplace, with its mix of deadlines, conference calls and meetings – not to mention kids’ day-care, school, sports and activity schedules?

Thanks to digital innovation, going out to lunch on a workday can be a thing again, and not just something that they did on Mad Men. Writing in Modern Restaurant Management magazine, my colleague Robert Whitehead describes how cloud-based mobile solutions can digitize the transactional components of the dining experience, thereby increasing table turnover and saving customers precious time.

Specifically, rather than waiting for a server to arrive with menus after you’re seated at a restaurant, you can use a mobile app to place orders before you arrive. And when you’re done, rather than waiting for your server to appear with the check, and then waiting some more for your receipt, you simply pay using the app.

Add it up and it comes out to 15 to 20 minutes – enough to make a difference when deciding if you have enough time to go to lunch and still get back to prepare for your two o’clock. And while the transactional part of the meal is more efficient, you still get the interaction and service you expect when eating out.

Digital technology is driving the customer experience strategy of businesses in a wide range of industries. But an effective solution requires more than an engaging app. Reliability is obviously imperative Fact is, if the app fails, so does the customer experience – regardless of how cool the app may be. And since one failure is usually enough to preclude a second chance, a sustainable digital customer experience requires a zero-defect approach to operations.

Another key is developing an operational foundation that integrates multiple discrete towers and databases, a task that typically involves stitching together existing legacy data with new digital tools. That integration is essential to collect and analyze data, gain insight into customer history and preferences, and act on that insight to deliver an enhanced experience.

When a hotel guest checks in, for example, the desk clerk needs real-time access to back office data on that guest’s loyalty program points, account history and room preferences. Airlines aiming to deliver a seamlessly connected experience must similarly link multiple, disparate silos of information, both internally as well as across the travel value chain of airport retail, accommodations and ground transportation.

The takeaway: true digital transformation is characterized an innovative re-imagining of how customers interact with businesses, along with a commitment to the basics of infrastructure, applications and architecture.