min read

3 guidelines to successfully integrate digital into the dining experience

by Maddy Ross , 20.04.2016

The opportunities for restaurants to introduce a digital component into the dining experience are wide and diverse. However, for this exciting technology to result in happier, more engaged and satisfied diners, integration must maintain focus on the entire experience, not just the digital interface itself.  After recently dining at a restaurant that incorporated a digital interface, with my UX ‘hat’ on, I came away with three guidelines to ensure that a strong user interface leads to an overall good experience for your restaurant diners.

1. Make the digital interface easy to use

During my recent dining experience, the restaurant provided an iPad at every table on which I was able to view the menu, order my food and pay. The interface was great and I was able to quickly navigate the menu and choose my dinner.

To ensure your digital interface is useful, intuitive and visually appealing, the following UX design best practices can be applied:

  • In addition to offering the features a diner needs, the user should be able to learn to navigate the interface within the first ten seconds of use.
  • All action buttons should have clear affordance on the page.
  • Visual cues within the interface should clearly direct the diner to the next step in the ordering process.
  • Menu items should have both textual descriptions and detailed pictures to meet the needs of all users. To keep the design aesthetically pleasing, take full advantage of the digital interface by providing users with pictures of the menu items. By placing these images behind each menu option, the menu will not be limited by page space and all menu items can be accompanied by images. Text descriptions will be preferred by some users, and along with the use of symbols, can provide an at-a-glance assessment of dietary restrictions (see example from sprig.com below).


 UX - Restaurant experience Sprig.com

2. Create a quicker and easier experience

Integrating digital components into restaurant environments should result in a simpler and faster dining experience. One way to do this is to combine order and pay through the same interface, saving the user the extra step of paying after they order.

Since customization is very important to diners, the digital interface must allow easy customization options for food ordered through the interface. For example, when ordering a burger, a diner should be able to customize toppings, cheese type, condiments and any other options that could be asked for when ordering at a counter or through wait staff. Don’t slow down the dining process – if these customization options are not included and/or easy to see, a user might be forced to seek out other guidance when they cannot be found.

3. Complement the digital experience with the “human element”

My food arrived within 10 minutes, but when I needed some mustard for my hamburger, I could not find a waiter. The iPad offered an option to request a server, but after pressing it a few times, no one arrived. My excitement at using the digital interface was quickly soured by the lack of anything resembling a non-digital experience.

The most well-designed interface will never result in a great user experience if the non-digital components of the dining experience are not equally well-designed. The user experience of dining is a combination of both the digital and the non-digital.

The delivery of food should be seamless from the ordering process. Orders should go to the right person at the right table. This can be done through the digital interface by allowing users to enter their names when ordering or tagging each step with an easy-to-see order number to ensure that wait staff can easily see where the order belongs. However, if the food is not brought out quickly, or orders are prepared incorrectly, this can detract from the experience.

Assistance must be easily accessible. The digital interface can again help with a clearly visible help option, but once help has been requested, a staff member must arrive promptly to ensure that diners do not become frustrated when their request is not fulfilled.

Staff can also serve as “trainers” for the digital interface and must be well-versed in its use. Some diners may not be as tech savvy and may not be able to use the interface as intuitively as others. This is the most important time to ensure that staff is able to help these diners to ensure that their digital interface struggle is not detracting from their dining experience.

Non-digital elements must also work seamlessly to ensure that once the diner has completed their interaction with the digital interface, the experience continues to be a positive one.

The digital and non-digital must blend seamlessly

At first glance, a unique digital solution with an easy-to-use interface might seem like it should be enough to improve any dining experience. However, if there is a lack of thought beyond the digital interface of the ordering system, it will ultimately result in a poor overall user experience.

The digital and non-digital must blend seamlessly into a customized and efficient experience, and the best user experience will be one where diners’ needs are met equally though the digital interface and the “human element” of the restaurant.

Please email me to share your thoughts at maddy.ross@gfk.com (User Experience Specialist at GfK).