The New (digital) Restaurant Customer Experience Q&A with Nick Hughes, Head of Growth

Nick Hughes is GoCart's head of growth, and has an extensive background in payments, e-commerce, and SMB software. He is passionate about client and consumer experience.


So Nick, tell us about some of the big changes that restaurants have seen over the past couple years.

As the pandemic came about, it caused a heavy shift to digital channels, whether from an online perspective, or an increase in phone orders. There’s also been a shifting of expectations for those that were brave enough to go out and actually sit down and dine – around you know, no menus, QR code-based components. So both customer expectations and the way these restaurants operate fundamentally shifted.

How have those shifts changed the customer experience?

It has absolutely changed the landscape. Hospitality is all about the entire experience, right? It's not just the food that you're getting, but it's the experience of being in the establishment. What was the service level like, what's the cleanliness of the restaurant, so on and so forth – and when it's in person, it's easily controlled. You can see as a restaurant employee that a customer has been standing in line for a long time or is, you know, not eating.

What you can't see as a restaurant is the consumer's experience on that digital platform. Are they having trouble completing their payment, or modifying the food selection that they have? I experience that all the time going to a third party online ordering app. Maybe there's no modifier to say no beans. Now I'm stuck putting it in a note and hoping that that restaurant’s going to catch the note. There can be a loss of consistency as you shift into digital, and especially when you don't own the digital experience and you're reliant on one of these marketplaces to drive it.

It's interesting that you mentioned third party apps. Can you talk more about how those have impacted the customer experience?

Well, the consumer has the ability to select from all these different restaurants that are on there, right? There's no driving brand affinity or loyalty, etcetera. So you're disintermediating the consumer from the brand, but even when they go into the experience, the merchant is relying on that third party to showcase the modifiers and selections the way that they want it showcased. Which isn't always done perfectly due to technology limitations and other components that may be there, and the fact that those entities are trying to manage that service on behalf of hundreds and thousands of restaurants. So it's very hard to keep that constantly up to date and keep that functionality at a level that the restaurant would want to see.

And a heavy, heavy amount of margin is going to these third-party ordering applications – in an industry where margins are already thin. So bringing that back in house and owning it is key.

You mentioned loyalty. Can you tell us more about how we should be thinking about loyalty in the restaurant space?

So for younger generations, they're less keen on sign-ins and overall goal-based loyalty programs. And what I mean by that is it could be points, it could be sales promotions, it could be however a merchant handles loyalty for their establishment. The younger consumers are less focused on that and they're more focused on the digital experience overall –how quickly can I get it? How easily can I get it?

Also, consumer recognition in payments is going to become a very powerful consumer acquisition and loyalty tool for restaurants. Historically, it's been a retail play and now I think with the shift to digital in the hospitality space, we're going to see it become a focal point here too.

So for restaurants, decisions will be influenced by ease of experience. We're going to remember the bad experiences more so than the good experiences, because the good experiences are going to become the norm.

Makes sense. Any closing thoughts?

Where we focus from a GoCart perspective is on the fact that consumers are going to take the easiest path to ordering. If we want to get to a place where that brand is front and center and it's happening on the merchants ecosystem, the focus needs to be around the experience overall, back to how do we modify, what does the actual payment process look like. Ultimately, we want to end the disintermediation of the brand and the consumer.