2017 Technology Trends for Caterers

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The mass uptake of smartphones and other digital devices has transformed the way we do business in just about every industry, and particularly in hospitality. Technology offers exciting opportunities and tools with which catering businesses can boost their presence, sales, reach, and competitive advantage. By understanding the top trends for the coming year, you’ll be well placed to adapt and change to stay ahead of both customer demand and the competition.

Here are some trends to be aware of in 2017.

1. The continued rise of mobile computing

Mobile computing will continue to grow with the dominance of mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, and internet usage over desktops and laptops in the industry. Smartphone transactions (18%) and tablet-based transactions (33%) exceed desktop and laptop transactions (49%) worldwide, and mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic in 2014. Research shows that mobile users globally overtook desktop users in early 2014, and mobile devices are now the number one preferred device for the Internet over desktops.

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The rise of mobile is also relative to the amount of media time spent on devices. For example, among US users mobile digital media time (51%) is much higher than desktop (42%). While globally 91% of users own a desktop or notebook, smartphone ownership is a close second at 80%. Some projections see users in the US and UK spending much more time on their phones than computers by 2018.

Another important aspect of the dominance of mobile is the fact that conversion rates can be much higher on mobile phones than desktops. This applies to all categories of online purchases, include restaurants and cafes, and a staggering 78% of mobile searches for local business information ends with a purchase. However, some experts suggest conversion rates on mobile devices though increasing are more modest in reality, and so focusing on creating a consistent multichannel and multi-device experience rather than adopting a mobile-first approach would be more effective.

At the same time, businesses need to keep in mind that two-thirds of consumers prefer mobile-friendly websites to apps, and a good number of apps lose 90% of its active users within 30 days of download. This means while apps such as Facebook and messaging apps are popular and offer advertising opportunities, it could be more important to focus on developing a mobile-optimised website than a proprietary app.

When you take into account the fact that Google rewards mobile-friendly sites with higher rankings and non-mobile-friendly sites with lower rankings, it’s more vital than ever that you offer your customers a way to place their catering orders through a mobile-optimised site.

2. Food delivery marketplaces

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Food delivery marketplaces such as Deliveroo, Foodora, Delivery Hero, Menulog and Uber Eats will continue to grow in popularity, and will most likely expand to encompass the catering market as well as restaurants and cafes. These marketplaces facilitate the delivery of food and catering services by matching drivers and delivery cyclists with restaurants.

Typically the featured restaurants don’t offer delivery by themselves, which is why they’re happy to accept the marketplace taking a commission (around 10% to 15%) for the extra business. As a catering business, you could find working with these marketplaces rewarding as they could help you expand your reach, while reducing the scope of your delivery operations.

There’s no doubt these providers are growing rapidly, with some providers reporting monthly gains of between 20%30%, and studies showing that nearly half of all Australians have ordered food online and would do it again. For a catering business, the growth of food delivery services is an opportunity that you can prepare for by building up your online presence and marketing your unique points of difference.

3. Online chat

Online chat is fast becoming a major customer service trend. For catering businesses that haven’t yet implemented a live chat feature on their sites or apps, it offers untapped potential as the go-to, first-choice option for customer service and sales. Live chat is instant and interactive, but is flexible because it facilitates multitasking for customers. Chat agents can access extra support features such as language translation and automated messages for uniform chat content such as terms and conditions before customers commit to an order. You can easily share links, files, and other content to drive sales outcomes, including upselling opportunities.

Live chat can result in higher customer satisfaction because there’s no wait time for reply emails or waiting on hold for a call centre agent. Some studies show that as much as 91% of customers are satisfied with live chat, and that a large percentage of customers think it’s important to have questions answered by chat agents before they finalise their online order.

Other studies show that as many as 63% of customers are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat. For caterers and other businesses, live chat lends itself well to lead qualification, onboarding assistance, and chat invitations for sales strategies.

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ZopimLiveChat and LiveAgent are some of the products that enable businesses, including those in the catering industry, to offer sales and customer support through your website. Facebook’s Messenger for Business allows businesses to work with live chat providers such as Userlike to offer chat support through the business’s Facebook page. With its cost effectiveness and potential for customisation, live chat is another big technology trend for catering businesses to take advantage of.

4. Smart delivery routing

Having access to the latest traffic information can make all the difference when it comes to delivering on time. When you’re working with food, time is of the essence and customers value freshness as much as they do things like flavour and quality of ingredients.

Smart delivery routing allows you to organise and coordinate individual deliveries, assign them to drivers, and have orders delivered on time while minimising other costs such as fuel and wages. If you use a smart delivery routing system, you might be able to generate reports to check driver performance, delivery times for individual drivers, and other vital information that lets you improve your processes.

Your drivers’ smartphones or mobile devices could be linked to your routing system, which would allow them to check their route and delivery assignments, traffic conditions, and delivery time estimates. Their app or interface could then give them other vital information such as exact packages to offload at each stop, and it might include a tool to communicate with the customer directly to give updates. A great smart delivery routing system would incorporate a feature for real-time views of your driver’s location so that you can easily check and re-assign routes as required.

With apps like Google Maps and Waze available, you can adjust your driver’s routes in real time and respond quickly to changing traffic conditions – such as accidents – so they can still deliver on time. These apps give your drivers turn-by-turn voice navigation so there’s no need to memorise routes or review maps along the way – your driver simply has to concentrate on following the voice instructions. Google Maps also gives you extra information on businesses, monuments, live traffic conditions, and rerouting options. It also allows you to track and save location data.

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Waze on the other hand is a slightly different app that has integrated social features. For example, you can share information with your network about accidents, road closures, and other traffic conditions. Unlike Google Maps, it’s for vehicles only and not for cyclists or pedestrians. You can also use it to check for the cheapest petrol, and other useful features such as the traffic jam indicator lets you track the time you’ll lose to traffic jams.

Ideally, a smart delivery routing system would integrate these types of navigation apps with a central system that’s incorporated with your order tracking and CRM for a seamless order-to-delivery process.

5. Analytics and business intelligence

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Analytics and business intelligence is one of the most critical ways your catering business can learn about your customers and how they might be changing, and how to keep adjusting your strategy – whether it’s product, marketing, pricing, or other strategy – to stay ahead of the curve.

In marketing activities, using business intelligence and analytics tools lets you tap into areas that are likely to experience higher demand (predictive analytics) and allows you to concentrate your marketing efforts in these areas. You can also use predictive analytics to better understand how your customers are using catering services and adjust your marketing message to reflect that. Predictive analytic techniques can also be applied to social media platforms, where you can engage with top influencers and incentivise them to spread the message.

While you’re improving your understanding of your customers and their preferences, you can use this information to adjust and change your products and services to meet any changes in demand. This enables you to anticipate changing preferences and behaviour – such as a preference for new foods and novel types of cuisine – and adapt accordingly. This is a type of trend analysis that lets you improve not only your product offerings but your overall business intelligence processes. As you capture and analyse data on things such as sales, products, margins, and sales staff, you’re developing an excellent foundation to analyse other aspects of your business, which could range from financial trends to stock levels and waste management.

The promise of big data can be realised if you leverage the right tools. One of the best tools that any business with a website can use is Google Analytics. Completely free to use, Google Analytics could prove to be valuable for your marketing and sales departments, as well as for your strategy planning and customer demand analysis. It’s easy to use and offers complex and detailed reporting features.

For example, you can check your traffic sources (sites, search terms, or ads where your visitors are coming from), the keywords being used to find your site, and the search engines through which your visitors are finding you. You can find out which pages are your most popular and which pages have the most leaving visitors, and can also compare performance across timeframes.

There are many other tools out there that can help you boost the business intelligence capabilities of your catering business. Our FoodStorm catering software allows you to track your sales outcomes and conduct a deep analysis of your sales data through historical views.

The future of catering

Technology has changed and will continue to change how catering businesses connect with customers, deliver products, understand customers and trends, and provide customer service. As long as you keep abreast of these changing trends and understand how they can be best applied in your unique business processes, you can fully leverage your business’s resources for competitiveness and sustainable growth.