Workplace Cafeterias Must Overhaul Payment and Engagement Menus to Compete

April 11, 2019         By: Mel Taylor

It’s not just the arrival of ramen burgers and Korean tacos on menus that signals how workplace catering is changing. Customers’ habits are morphing under the influence of mobile technology and new expectations about convenience.

Even if sashimi salads are unlikely to appear in every workplace, food service companies have customers (and an untapped audience of potential customers), who want to save time by using their cellphones, tablets, workstations or dedicated kiosks to select, order, pay and collect loyalty points.

Research shows the critical role of technology

Research conducted this year among 1,500 US and UK employees confirms just how critical technology is in boosting revenues in onsite workplace catering. More than eight-in-ten employees (82 percent), for example, say they will buy more often from their onsite cafeteria with order ahead technology.  

More than half (52 percent) are ready to use order ahead technology every time, enabling them to avoid collection and payment lines. These are pet-hates for employees. Six-in-ten (60 percent) say lines are the main reasons for NOT visiting their workplace cafeteria or restaurant more often.

Technology has reshaped expectations in what we might term The Amazon Go effect.  The cashier-less approach to retail is set to be rolled out in thousands of Amazon Go stores and will have a big influence on the quick service sector. Rumours that fast food is part of the offering persist, while companies such as Starbucks are already technology-led in many respects. They know that speed and convenience are what make a difference to consumers living on their smartphones.

Order ahead is in high demand

It is why order ahead technology deserves greater adoption in workplace cafeterias. It encourages spending because it saves time and gives employees more certainty about what is available. It enables employees with a dedicated app on their phone to examine offers and dishes of the day, select what they want and a preferred collection time. Payment is collected automatically, using registered details, or at the point-of-collection. The whole, hassle-free experience is wrapped up neatly with an e-receipt, loyalty points and an offer for the next day.

If on-site cafeterias don’t use tech in this way, customers will simply go elsewhere, either to local food halls (offering diverse forms of cuisine) or ordering workplace deliveries from slick app-based companies. The future now hangs on how onsite food providers use technology.

Employees want simple, push-button convenience. For many, lunch is a matter of grab-and-go. Quick ordering and payment are precisely what they want. In previous research more than four-in-ten operators (44%) said cashless payments through a loyalty card or mobile app would encourage more employees to use their workplace restaurant. Loyalty programs should never be underestimated either. In the new research, 70 percent of employees said they will visit more frequently if their workplace cafeteria has one.

App payment will drive up spending

Operators seeking to meet this demand will inevitably invest in the apps and solutions that put power in the hands of the customer and remove the hassles. The research gives us the evidence that this works. Almost half of the employees in the most recent research (48 percent) want to place an order with the on-site workplace cafeteria using an app on their phone.

Those apps need to have plenty of functionality including scan-and-go technology, which gives customers more control over their own time by allowing them to use the app to scan prepared meals, drinks or candy and skip the till by paying through the app. This is a major step up in convenience. The research found that 58 percent of employees are ready to visit their workplace at least once-a-week more if experience-enhancing technologies are available.

With payments such a crucial element of functionality, more banks, fintechs and payment providers are inevitably set to enter what should be a lucrative market, integrating their solutions into cafeteria apps. It is an area that is destined to grow.

Apps are essential data mines for personalisation

Apps have a huge role to play in boosting revenues. They enable a vastly more detailed level of personalisation. Employees who have specific food preferences because of their health requirements or beliefs, can be alerted to anything that may be unsuitable. And with a full range of preferences and purchasing history for each customer, cafeteria operators can send highly relevant offers and notifications to employees’ phones. It’s not just a question of vegans receiving offers on tofu, although that is part of it. It’s about changing behaviour. Customers who never set foot inside the on-site cafeteria on a Monday, for instance, can be sent discounts that nudge them into a new routine.

Maximisation of spending is driven by customer engagement technology

Yet as vital as cashless payments, apps and scan-and-go technology are, their full optimisation only occurs if operators have the software that pulls everything together in the background. The aim is to provide a consistent experience regardless of how the employee interacts with the operator.  The research found that nearly a quarter of customers (23%) prefer to order online and a tenth (10%) want to use a touch-screen kiosk. Whichever method customers use, including paying cash at the point-of-sale, they should always be recognised and be able to see their loyalty points and have the full range of options.

This is a question of unifying mobile payment and fixed point-of-sale technology and integrating their data into a customer engagement platform that runs slick, personalised loyalty rewards, offers and notifications, and is linked to stock and kitchen management systems.

With the ability to crunch masses of data, customer engagement platforms send personalised prompts and notifications that achieve far greater uptake, smoothing out demand and substantially reducing food waste. Guests will be discouraged from eating elsewhere and average order sizes will increase.

The future of onsite food services is wrapped up in technology

Technology really matters in quick service and workplace food services now. The recently announced investment by burger giant McDonald’s in the New Zealand-based mobile engagement company Plexure gives us a strong signal about the future for all quick service food operators.  Plexure’s technology helps companies engage with consumers on their mobile devices, using offers, loyalty programs and mobile ordering to encourage them to order more often. If a global business of McDonald’s scale makes this investment, then the in-house catering sector should take note and explore their own options.

To be capable of competing with off-site food options and restaurants, any on-site operator needs to offer in-app and cashless payments. But this must be part of a much more sophisticated technology interface, powered by software that pulls all the data together to ensure pinpoint accuracy in personalisation. It’s no accident that a company as hugely successful as Starbucks is driven as much by technology as taste.

Mel Taylor has been CEO at Omnico since November 2014. The company provides seamless Cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) and customer engagement solutions across the retail, F&B, destination and hospitality sectors