The Catering Industry is Hungry for Digitalization

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the meaning of “dine out” and “window

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The COVID-19 crisis has changed the meaning of “dine out” and “window shopping”. According to the 2021 Q2 Consumer Survey conducted by GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, 58% of respondents are concerned to go out to public areas due to covid-19 health risks in Asia. [1]

The pandemics cannibalise fast and hard on old-fashioned restaurants that notoriously slack off on adopting new technology. You can imagine a waitress who has a ball pen hanging in her front pocket, scribbling your orders on paper and passing it to the chef who then shouts loudly in the kitchen. Asking for card payment is simply too much and it is nothing wrong with them. 

But now, they only have one choice, evolution or extinction.

Heytea Go Mobile App Increase Repurchase Rate By 300%

The third-party tech-savvy companies are the propelling engine behind the evolution. Delivery platforms, waitlist software, credit-card system, QR code software are integrated to assist restaurants to survive. If you forgot your phone at home, you might not be able to order your meal through QR-code menus and self-ordering interfaces. 

But some are more advanced than others, Heytea, China’s leading milk tea chain founded in 2012, manages over 400 stores in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Known for its cream cheese topped tea drink, a long queue is expected when you entered the store. Heytea aims at providing a seamless experience to their millennial customers by launching Heytea Go, an ordering app in collaboration with its financial service provider Wirecard. During its initial phase of launching, it has accumulated 6 million users and its repurchase rate raises triple. [2]

According to Heytea’s press release, half of the orders are now generated from their mobile app. The reason being is that the app provides an estimated waiting time and you can pick it up when the app pushes you a notification. This helps to avoid tedious, long waiting times, especially we are living in a modernized fast pace world.

Heytea understands incorporating technology in its operations is the key to improving customers experience and customizing their preferences. It highly encourages customers to repurchase and build up the habit of regular ordering from the app. 

Hotpot Restaurant Chain: Haidilao’s Smart Restuarant

The hardship of lockdown and dining restrictions make restaurants struggle to stay afloat. According to Reuters, China’s catering industry shrank 3.1% in September 2021. [3] Even the biggest hotpot restaurant chain, Haidilao, has witnessed a slow growth and decline in consumer spending. In opposition to rapid expansion previously, Haidilao now needs to ponder its opening pace. 

To be the leader of the industry, they have prepared to advance their kitchen management through automation and digitalisation to bring restaurants to the next level. As a famous Chinese saying goes, “plan ahead to prepare for a rainy day.” This Sichuan-style hotpot chain launched a smart restaurant in Shanghai in April this year. 

On the front end,  the ordering experience is no different to other Haidilao restaurants but you can create your own hotpot sauce on iPads. From spice, salt, oil, topping and green garnish, you can adjust the amount on each ingredient to customise your favourite sauce. In total, there are over 10,000 recipes you can get. [4]

On the back end, automated cold rooms with robotic arms and servers are definitely on the checklist. Robot arms are equipped to facilitate the food pickup and delivery service while robots servers deliver food to dining tables. In order to ensure food safety, each plate has radio-frequency identification chips to track shelf life. The chips contain data that can help Intelligent Kitchen Management System to monitor, manage and analyse inventory data and back-stage operation in real-time. After the customer’s order, dishes are automatically produced in the kitchen by robot arms. Haidilao said that it reduced the kitchen labour costs by 37 per cent. [4]

The pandemic reshapes the catering industry by forcing them to employ digital transformation. While small-medium companies are catching up in digital technology, giant enterprises are investing heavily in digital strategies and improving customers’ online and offline experiences mediated by digital relationships. In the post-pandemics stage, only restaurants that have digital’s sense will thrive as the diners are expecting more and better. 

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