5 Restaurant Tech Trends Accelerating Into 2021

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Unsplash/Marvin Meyer
Restaurants use technology products to improve sales during coronavirus.
Unsplash/Marvin Meyer

As quick-service restaurants continue to assess their operations during the final days of a tumultuous 2020, the uncertainty of what the near and long-range future will hold is weighing heavily on the minds of operations executives. Across the board in food retail, the 2020 surprise was how quickly COVID accelerated the critical role and importance of technology. Indeed, what the industry thought was on the horizon for 2025 will be implemented in 2021.

The trends for 2021 are already emerging with five main areas of increased technology acceleration forquick-service restaurants:

 Frictionless consumer experience

 Transparency

 Automation

 Predictive decision making

Agility

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Aria Group
Shake Shack drive up window rendering.
Aria Group

Toward a Frictionless Consumer Experience

Customers are often selecting quick-service brands that offer the least human interaction. Restaurants that offered touchless checkout were the winners during the pandemic, but they may see new competition in fresh food vending in the year ahead. The more touchless options quick-serves can offer for pick-up and delivery, the better they’ll be able to compete. It’s not too early to consider delivery by autonomous vehicles which are set to take-to-the-roads next year.

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Unsplash/Jason Jarrach
Vegetables being prepared.
Unsplash/Jason Jarrach

Increased Transparency

The pandemic demonstrated the urgent need for end-to-end supply chain visibility to meet challenges created by shortages. In an unanticipated shift, quick-service chains stepped in when grocery supply chains failed and served customers’ needs by supplying hard-to-get items like hand sanitizer and paper towels.Next year, quick-serves will be tasked to do more within their own supply chains. The ability to consistently provide a complete menu will depend on accurate data for availability and delivery of ingredients.

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Taco Bell
Taco Bell drive-thru mockup.
Taco Bell

Leveraging Automation

Quick-service restaurants have been doing more tasks with less labor than ever before, and this trend will continue. It will be essential to automate internal processes that were historically done manually like food prep calculation and labeling, and inventory control. Operators will find that automating such tasks will free up employees to provide consumer-driven demand for pick-up and delivery.

There is also the urgent matter of safety. Because restaurants offer an implied brand promise that: “if we serve it, it is safe,” operators need to follow through on that promise by making food safety a greater priority than it was pre-COVID. Automating and generating data protects the customer and the brand in a centralized, easily accessible manner, for example through expiry management, temperature tracking and adherence to employee handwashing protocols.

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McDonald's
McDonald's Drive Thru rendering.
McDonald's

Rise in Predictive Decision Making

Expect advances in supply chain AI driving a safer more productive quick-service restaurant operation to be another big part of the conversation in 2021.

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Unsplash/Paul Hanaoka
Mobile phone being held by person.
Unsplash/Paul Hanaoka

Agility in Adopting Technology

More than anything else, quick-service restaurant operators will need to fight fear of technology. Today’s technology is totally scalable and allows businesses to “stick a toe in the technology water” before making a robust commitment. Being agile during unpredictable times means starting small with proof of concept and then ramping up to meet both needs and budget.

As the adage says, “the only constant is change.” Embracing technology that drives success for quick-service restaurants will be a welcome change amidst uncertainty in 2021.

Ryan Yost is vice president/general manager for the Printer Solutions Division (PSD) for Avery Dennison Corporation. In his role, he is responsible for worldwide leadership of and strategy for the Printer Solutions Division, focused on building partnerships and solutions within the Food, Apparel and Fulfillment industries. For more information, visit https://printers.averydennison.com/en/home.html.