Adobe's Simon Dale outlines some key areas of focus for F&B marketers as Singapore continues its staged re-opening after Circuit Breaker measures.

With Singapore now in Phase 2 of reopening amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, food and beverage (F&B) outlets – while allowed to resume dine-in service – can only do so at reduced capacity. And new health and safety regulations in place, the dining experience will be a different one.

Consumer behaviour has also evolved during the Circuit Breaker phase. While some customers are eager to resume dining out, many others have grown accustomed to the convenience and comfort of ordering in and eating at home.

To continue to attract and keep customers, F&B operators will have to innovate and adapt fast to the new norm without forgoing customer experience. Here are some key considerations for F&B businesses to earn trust and loyalty.

Align your teams

Digital has become the new normal in F&B over the past months and has transformed the customer experience journey in many ways. According to Adobe’s Digital Trends 2020 Report, 40% of businesses that were leading in customer experience exceeded their 2019 business goals compared to only 13% who did not lead in that metric. Customer experience and employee engagement will be even more important during recovery.

Even as physical business resumes, interfacing electronically or digitally first with employees and customers, then supplementing with physical interactions where appropriate will be critical. As dining-in resumes, F&B businesses should ensure that their teams are fully equipped to interact with new digital technologies and digital processes. Having training in place to reskill and upskill employees in this regard will reduce friction for employees and your customers.

Synchronise your messages across channels

The channels through which a business connects with its customers will be crucial in the new remote economy. Consumer expectations have skyrocketed too. When consumers interact with a restaurant or food outlet online today, their digital experience is not just benchmarked against another F&B brand; they will expect the same engagement and seamless experience comparable to that of hailing a rideshare or ordering food through a delivery service online. The experience needs to be tailored to the right expectations.

Every customer touchpoint should relay the same correct information about opening times, menus, special offers, and implemented regulations – particularly as these company policies and operations evolve. This means dynamically updating in-store and social channels as well as all digital touchpoints, including third-party ordering and fulfilment services, at all times.

Personalise dining offerings

Knowing your customer and understanding their context is important. As lockdown restrictions ease up and restaurants reopen fully, some customers will be willing to eat out sooner and return to previous dining habits. Analyse online data that indicates this inclination and ensure communications to those customers are aligned.

On the other hand, customers who have been ordering food delivery more often during the lockdown period may have developed a preference for dining from home. Where possible, leverage data to understand customer preferences and tailor offerings to them – for example, rather than pushing dine-in promotions to these customers, offer delivery bundles instead.

Engaging customers with personalised content and offers at the right time will help catalyse recovery by keeping customers engaged and coming back.

Embrace the new era of self-service

Digital self-service is a new and critical “muscle” to flex in the dining sector. To continue driving revenue, many restaurants (and even hawker stalls) have partnered with third-party delivery platforms or even set up their own online ordering systems during the Circuit Breaker. Such digital systems aren’t just temporary solutions but investments to better engage customers in the long term.

Take Starbucks for example. During the Circuit Breaker, the F&B chain took advantage of their existing customer loyalty app to send offers and information to customers. The brand also recently added a new Mobile Order & Pay feature through the app, allowing customers to order in advance, avoid the queue, and minimize unnecessary contact in-store.

These changes require bridging the gap between physical and online strategies – focusing offline to essential activities while shifting the primary business model to self-service. This requires not only adjusting operation resources, but also digital resources and the alignment between both.

Be proactive, not reactive

Proactive steps to communicate clearly and consistently, and to build on digital capabilities, will help F&B businesses build trust, and emerge stronger and better positioned to capture opportunities for recovery. Various government schemes, such as the Fortitude Budget, have been introduced to further support businesses with that and help reskill staff too.

Dining establishments shouldn’t look at their recent digital efforts simply as temporary measures to keep the lights on. Instead, they should look to leverage new digital capabilities and data to better understand their customers’ needs, transform offline processes and improve their customer engagements.

This could be the start of a new and exciting era of dining experiences.