As technology keeps evolving so does the foodservice industry, and if it confuses you, you’re not alone; the non-profit Digital Restaurant Association (DRA) is here to help.
AI, social media, cryptocurrency — it’s everywhere. The technological revolution’s wheels are turning and there’s no stopping them now. How customers interact with restaurants has been corresponding with these updates of the digital age and the global pandemic. “Before the pandemic, about 8% of sales were online, and restaurants were slow to adapt to digital technology, but post-pandemic sales average 40% online now,” according to DRA CEO, Joe Reinstein. The Chicago, IL native launched the DRA as an opportunity to help create an enormous online community to amplify helplines for restaurateurs.
Every aspect of the field is digitized now. From developing websites to wholesale distribution and automatic rotating pizza ovens, technology is optimizing all fronts. “Whatever it is, it can all be fueled by, managed by, and made more efficient and streamlined through this digital technology,” Reinstein said. “It’s just the wild west, it’s a red-hot mess for restaurants to figure it out.” In this jumbled-up, new-age confusion, the DRA gives some clarity. “We’re providing educational information so that restaurants have access to do-it-yourself solutions,” Reinstein said. A lot of that education comes from industry experts, and sharing solutions with members of the DRA is something the organization prides itself on.
On July 26-27, they’re hosting a live restaurant marketing summit online — and it’s free. The summit has a crew of industry experts including 16 CEOs discussing a range of topics from building customer loyalty and creating TikToks, to online menus and using AI to respond to guest’s feedback. The event is one of the many ways that the DRA provides instructional information to help the community learn from each other and build up a better ecosphere, you can register here.
That phrase, ‘ecosphere,’ is exactly what Reinstein’s mission is with the DRA. “In this case, it’s working together in order to improve the efficiency of operation, profitability, increase revenue, increase online visibility, you name it. Running all aspects of your business,” Reinstein said. Aside from education and technology, the DRA also creates an emphasis on public policy advocacy.
Third-party delivery systems are at the forefront of that changing ecosphere. Like outdoor seating or working from home, third-party delivery systems gained popularity during the pandemic and continued to soar after it ended. Since the demand is so high, and the concept is still so new, there are minimal regulations ensuring equity in the industry. “In trying to create a fairer and more sustainable ecosystem, we want all the players involved in generating and fulfilling online orders through delivery to be profitable. Everyone should be profitable,” Reinstein said.
One of the biggest issues? Lack of transparency.
“You get a receipt on a delivery order, and you have no idea what you’re seeing,” Reinstein explained. “Who exactly does the gratuity go to? The hidden fees? The delivery fees directly from the third-party apps? The taxes and charges from the delivery companies, the restaurants and the drivers create cause for confusion. The DRA is an advocate for clear communication between the consumer and the business, and third-party companies fog it up sometimes.”
“It doesn’t matter if the restaurant made a mistake, or the driver ate the fries, or your order got delivered to your neighbor’s house, the customer is hangry,” Reinstein said. “They call the restaurant, and the restaurant doesn’t know who they are. They can’t solve the problem. They cannot help you.” The basic connectivity between the restaurant and the customer is lacking. Reinstein compared third-party delivery systems to one of the biggest companies in the world — Amazon. “At Amazon, you can connect to the vendors directly if there’s a negative review. They connect them. We should follow that model.”
The future of the DRA is synonymous with the word ‘adaptability.’ With changing tech and constant updates of best practices, the best is yet to come, and the DRA understands that. “In trying to help restaurants manage what is out there right now, we’re not going to be the first to push AI and robots. But if enough restaurant operators and DRA members are interested, it’s lowering labor costs and increasing revenue, we’re going to make a big deal out of it,” Reinstein said.
The DRA’s next project has experts and consultants who are available for a free, one-on-one 30-minute session with operators to help determine their issues and connect them with solutions. The DRA is growing quickly every sector of the industry can benefit. “We have everyone from single-location mom-and-pop shops to mid-sized independents, to big multi-national chains,” Reinstein concluded.