Restaurant and dining-related software has been in the news lately. Earlier today we reported on Toast’s plans for an IPO this year. The interesting subtext to the restaurant POS’s plans is how well it has faired during the pandemic, despite the devastation of its customer base.
Also this week, Yelp has rolled out new solutions to help restaurants manage through their current set of challenges. Namely, helping manage the still growing shift to takeout as a proportion of restaurant sales. And as the pandemic appears to ease with growing vaccination rates and the prospect of better weather, helping restaurants safely transition back to on-premise dining. This release also highlights Yelp’s ongoing pivot from being just a local entertainment directory (and data supplier) to a software vendor to restaurants.
Yelp, a company that has at times had a contentious relationship with restaurants, has done a great deal to support the industry through the pandemic. This included pledging $25 million to support restaurants and bars impacted by the crisis.
New Use for an Existing Tool
A blog post published yesterday by Yelp’s VP of Product Raul Hampole laid out the latest measures. For starters, Yelp has updated its Waitlist product, designed pre-pandemic to improve the customer experience of waiting for a table, to help with the takeout and reopening process. Before, restaurants were adapting a tool for in-store dining to carry out. Now the tool is designed for both use cases.
This is important since Yelp’s own data shows just how massively Covid has shifted restaurant trade from in-store to takeout. Since March 2020, takeout orders are up 3200%. Even by February 2021, takeout traffic was 2265% higher than a year earlier. Yelp seems to believe this will be a permanent shift in emphasis toward takeout. We agree that even if the numbers settle from pre-pandemic levels, takeout will remain a much bigger post-pandemic component than pre-pandemic.
“Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen some restaurants adapt their use of Waitlist to manage takeout and curbside pickup orders,” Hampole wrote. “However, the technology at that time wasn’t built to meet this growing need. The new Waitlist takeout feature will allow hosts to seamlessly manage both their dine-in and to-go parties via the Yelp Waitlist kiosk.”
So now, using Waitlist, a restaurant can manage the flow of takeout pickups to avoid having cars stack up. Or having waiting areas fill with carry-out diners waiting for orders. The new version of Waitlist gives a single view of all orders, in-store, and takeout. The app can store information like car type to manage curbside and uses SMS to alert diners that their orders are ready, so they can arrive just in time and avoid waiting. This of course makes it hard to maintain social distancing.
Mr. Stax Inc., which operates multiple IHOP franchises, piloted the new Waitlist takeout feature. According to Yelp, the app helped improve front-of-house efficiency. Between January 11 and February 11th, Mr. Stax received nearly 3,500 total to-go orders across its top 30 locations. The company says 36% of its Waitlist usage is for takeout orders.
“Any off-premise sales are certainly fundamental to our business at IHOP. Whether it be a to-go order placed over the phone, in person at the restaurant, online, or through our app,” said Nathan Hughes, Director of Operations for Mr. Stax. “For us, the greatest benefit of the new Takeout feature is that we’re able to communicate directly with our guests. For instance, letting them know if their order isn’t quite ready when they arrive and then texting them once it becomes available. Additionally, it reminds our guests that for future visits they can get on the Waitlist in advance by simply using Yelp.”
Search & Discovery Tweaks
Yelp also announced some new features to help consumers find restaurants based on specific criteria, like “gluten-free pizza” (if you’re into that). These include:
“On the Menu” This is a new section on business pages that surfaces a restaurant’s most popular dishes. This feature uses time-stamped menu photos so consumers can be sure the information is up to date.
“As of January 2021, we have seen more than a 60% increase in consumer interaction with menus on Yelp since January 2020.* “On the Menu” better highlights the meals available for diners without having to step inside a restaurant or navigate around a Yelp page.”
Upgraded Dish & Photo Search Currently only available on IOS, this featured surfaces more images in line with the user’s search. ” For example, if a consumer searches for cheesecake, they will see even more images of cheesecake in their search results.”
IOS 14 Home Screen Widget This new feature surfaces recommendation to iPhone users.
“These recommendations will rotate throughout the day to provide users with restaurants that are highly-rated and offer delivery or takeout.”