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Meet the latest circuit breaker pivot – Singapore’s first tech-enabled drive-through café

Crown Coffee’s latest app update demonstrates amidst a pandemic on how the IoT (Internet of Things) can keep customers safe and businesses from their EoD (End of Days)

As the latest and by far harshest ’Circuit Breaker’ measures implemented by the Singapore government in their embattled fight against COVID-19 saw many restaurant and cafe owners scramble in one of either two directions—getting onboarded fast and furious onto delivery platforms at the expense of slimmer margins; or fading into the dark momentarily to lick their wounds—one cafe owner was putting the final spit and polish to his weeks-old mobile ordering app’s latest UX update, a reconfiguration that he hopes will help him and his 15 employees ride out the month-long lockdown.

16, if you count Ella, Singapore’s first—and Crown Coffees resident—robotic barista that has been serving up robust Italian Buscaglione Coffee to regulars through fully digitalised touchpoints, including its own coffee app.

“It’s essentially adding a drive-through function to the cafe’s mobile ordering app that we quickly repurposed from Ella’s [coffee app] and rolled out in March when it was imminent that a lockdown was coming our way,” shares Crown Group’s founder and CEO Keith Tan, who cuts a figure that’s a far cry from the average cafe owner, with a company that shares the same extremities.

Tan was a wealth manager and coffee enthusiast who embarked as a F&B entrepreneur in 2016 with one humble 14-seater cafe in CT Hub 2. As one of the earliest adopters of fully automated coffee machines and Smart Cafes in Singapore, the Crown brand has since grown exponentially into the 60-seater stomping ground for the city-fringe tech hub it is today, along with a tech arm Crown Robotics, and smart retail solutions provider Crown Digital. The former was responsible for conceptualising Ella while the latter developed the app.

“The premise of the app was to give customers the ability to skip the queue and order from anywhere. While many establishments are pivoting to third-party delivery or takeaway with the new measures in place, we wanted to build on the app which already accounts for a bulk of the interaction a customer would traditionally need to make in-outlet, hence reducing exposing them or our staff to any unnecessary risk.”

Powered by Adyen, one of the world’s leading payment platforms, the Crown Coffee app boasts its own electronic Crown Wallet and virtual currency, as well as a corporate member rewards programme. In addition to placing and scheduling their orders, customers can also make payment, receive discounts and top up their balance anywhere with the app.

“The intention is to create a third drive-through option for our hyperlocal clientele who have made us a permanent fixture in their daily work routine to help them navigate their new work-from-home lifestyles. We hope they find this a viable solution where they can enjoy their healthy salad bowls, hot pressed paninis and daily cuppa joe without them having to fork out delivery charges or expose themselves to unnecessary risk while collecting their orders.”

Now upgraded with delivery, takeaway and the latest drive-through features that are seamlessly integrated into its mobile ordering app interface, customers who choose to order using the drive-through or takeaway option are entitled to a 25% discount off their total bill, while delivery charges are currently being absorbed and available for addresses within a 5km radius. Its recent hire of new executive chef Raymond Koh earlier this year has also expanded the cafe’s repertoire to include a heartier selection of crowd-pleasing dinner plates such as Guinness-rubbed pork ribs, truffle risotto and all-time favourite Crown Thick Burger.

The smart IoT (Internet of Things) cafe’s ability to innovate amidst a global pandemic that’s leaving broken F&B industries around the world in its wake is further testament that traditional business models need a layer of digitalisation and modernisation in order to thrive, or even survive, in today’s frenetic world.

These are extraordinary times, and there’s no way for anyone—myself included—to know how the next 30 days or so are going to pan out. But there’s no point going at it alone. What’s left of the once vibrant industry is already battered enough as it is. If there’s a restaurant or cafe out there who could use a software like this to help their customers find their way back, I’m down for a coffee.



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