Food lockers move food service forward, meeting consumer demands
Food lockers move food service forward, meeting consumer demands5 minutes
Recent events have put food service professionals to the test. The proof is in the numbers, with the National Restaurant Association*¹ reporting the industry is down nearly $240 billion in YOY sales and nearly 2.5 million employees are still out of work. Always quick to adapt, many food service providers began offering (or expanded existing) takeaway service, including curbside, drive-thru and other forms of contactless or low-contact pick-up.
From quick-service restaurants (QSR) to fine dining establishments, business owners and franchisors rolled up their sleeves to reinvent their business models and their menus, and many found that contactless service was an instant hit. In fact, a Forbes*² survey reports 87% of consumers want restaurants and other brands to continue offering take-out service and curbside pick-up.
So, what’s the issue? The problem is the unintended consequences some solutions present.
Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that restaurants and food service operators face when offering low-contact or contactless pickup – and how food lockers can help businesses meet these challenges head on.
Challenge #1: A new take on dine-and-dash
Long used by quick-service and fast casual restaurants, open-access shelving has made it easy to get into the take-out game since it doesn’t require large investment or significant space. The downside? Anyone can walk in and take an order off the shelf if no one is watching.
Additionally, finding the right order among a sea of uniform bags can be a challenge, especially during high-volume times like the lunch or dinner rush. When a customer mistakenly grabs the wrong order, that makes two dissatisfied customers for the price of one.
Food lockers improve security because, as the name suggests, they lock. Customers gain access with a simple code. Some lockers have a keypad or touch screen, while others open via QR code sent via text message.
Challenge #2: No one likes cold soup
Food left waiting on a shelf or countertop loses a little bit of freshness with every passing minute. Hot meals grow cold, salads greens wilt as they warm up, and beverages become less refreshing at room temperature. All this can lead to a subpar meal at best and food safety issues at worst – especially if the customer or delivery service is delayed during pick-up.
Today’s food lockers offer the ability to keep customers’ meals at the ideal temperature. Some systems keep food sealed from the elements at an ambient temperature, while others feature heated and chilled compartments to keep food at or near serving temperature. Warm meals stay piping hot, and cold items, like beverages, salads and desserts, keep chilled.
Challenge #3: The waiting game
Ideally, the increase in contactless service translates into increased volume — at drive-thrus, pick-up counters and other retrieval areas. But customers and delivery drivers don’t like waiting. Curbside pick-up is one way businesses have tried to address this challenge, but it’s not always fast, and it requires either additional staff or takes a set of hands away from the front of the house. These factors mean that many customers are experiencing excessive waits or meals that aren’t up to standards, with 45% of consumers saying that curbside delivers a poor experience.*²
Food lockers eliminate interaction with restaurant staff since they are self-service, generally activated by a secure PIN or QR code that’s sent directly to a guest’s mobile device. Plus, it takes just seconds to retrieve an order from a locker — customers are quickly in and out. The staff knows that the order has been picked up, allowing them to re-assign the locker to another order without delay.
Food lockers offer promising possibilities
Food lockers serve a valuable role in securely delivering fast, fresh, accurate orders without contact. They create a dedicated space that cuts down on counter congestion, reduces drive-offs and frees up staff.
This solution requires capital expenditure, but industry leaders believe technology investment is critical for the future. Panasonic surveyed food service professionals in November 2020, and 100% of respondents believe the urgency for transformative technology adoption has increased in the wake of Covid.
The consumer is ready to order
People want fast, convenient service without hassles, and food service has an opportunity to get agile. Smart food lockers and contactless technologies are a better response to growing customer demands than low-tech options. And as with any technology adoption, there will be winners and losers based on responsiveness.
*1 National Restaurant Association Releases 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report, National Restaurant Association, January 26, 2021.
*2 Consumers Overwhelmingly Like Curbside Pickup, And More from A New COVID-19 Survey, Forbes, June 18, 2020.