Will online food ordering replace in-house dining?

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FEBRUARY 7 — The following should be a familiar or relatable experience to most people.

You walk into a cafe or restaurant you frequent regularly. You go to the counter to order and — lo and behold — you are informed that you need to wait about 20 minutes for your drink or your meal even though there are hardly any customers in the shop.

The reason, though, is because all the staff are busy dealing with the orders coming in via GrabFood or some other food delivery app.

So a normal short wait for a coffee has morphed into a 15 — or 20-minute wait. A 15-minute wait for a chicken dish turns into half an hour.

Not only that, in some places the staff are clearly too busy to attend to the tables and so on. Some cashiers, because they’re too busy processing three dozen orders rolling out from the Grab reader on the desk, can hardly disguise their annoyance at you standing in front of them!

I have personally seen customers walk out of stores shaking their heads after being told of the waiting time.

I personally haven’t walked out but I confess having thought about it on at least half a dozen occasions.

Finally, it’s somehow an alien concept for restaurant staff to prioritise in-house customers over online customers. I once suggested this to the waiter and he gave me a blank look and said, “Uh, sir, the online customers ordered before you so that means we have to cook their meal first.”

I was like, “Yeah I get it but, hey, I’m physically here aren’t I? Doesn’t that count for something?”

Ergo: Online orders 3, In-House Dining Experience 0.

The scenarios I described above, thankfully, don’t happen that often. But it’s happened quite a few times to me in the past year and, based on conversations with friends, I’m not the only complainant.

According to a study done early last year by Web Bytes, a cloud-based retail management software company, it appears that after the lockdowns 85 per cent of Malaysian consumers prefer food deliveries and takeaways.

So a phenomenon which began in byte-sizes prior to 2020 and got steroid-boosted due to the lockdowns now remains in full force and is even growing.

To extrapolate into the future, if so many orders are NOT going to be in-house, why don’t restaurants remove their in-house service entirely and adopt 100 per cent online-ordering-and-delivery models?

According to a study done early last year by Web Bytes, it appears that after the lockdowns 85 per cent of Malaysian consumers prefer food deliveries and takeaways. — File picture by Devan Manuel

Honestly, what is the point of having a physical restaurant if an overwhelming majority of customers prefer to order takeaway?

Might it be the case that one day the F&B sector will look like the publishing sector? Just like how most people already buy their books online, and thus only one or two book stores remain which end up doubling as stationery or music stores.

The problem with online orders isn’t limited to in-house customer experience. According to a recent Reddit post which went viral on Twitter, it appears some Starbucks employees in the States are also complaining that they can’t cope with the sheer number of orders coming in.

And, to be honest, when I visited a nearby coffee outlet a few weeks ago it’s obvious that our local baristas had trouble handling all those incoming orders, too.

I don’t work in the F&B sector, so I come across as glib about how to resolve this. I only know that as someone who prefers in-house dining to paying that extra percentage to have my food delivered, my enjoyment at restaurants is taking a beating.

And I certainly don’t wish to see 99 per cent of restaurants becoming versions of Domino’s Pizza and me being forced to order all my drinks and food via an app.

This isn’t going to happen, right?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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