The dining experience will also be affected greatly by interactive technology. Already, more quick-serve chains have turned to kiosk and tablet ordering systems to provide these high-tech touch points to guests. Earlier this year, Pizza Hut tested an interactive table that allows diners to customize a virtual pizza to their liking in the comfort of their own restaurant booth. The table, created by Chaotic Moon Studios, also features gaming apps.
“Technology is particularly important to the Millennial age group—their basic expectation is that their restaurant experience incorporates some type of technology,” Riehle says.
All of this new technology will also offer operators integration opportunities that could potentially change the entire dine-in experience. When Corrin opened his first Freshii unit in 2005, his restaurant relied on a traditional cash register. Now he can monitor the sales of every unit in real time, in a remote location, thanks to advancements in POS systems. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” he says, adding that integrated data is the wave of the future for restaurants that are looking for a competitive edge.
Anthony Pigliacampo, cofounder of Denver-based Modmarket, says operators should stay on the cusp of all technology, not just restaurant-specific innovations.
“iPhones and tablets weren’t created for the restaurant space, but they’re changing how the industry does business,” he says. “How do we get a new payment system that integrates with every other piece of technology we have and make it all play nice together? That’s the future of technology for us. This significantly changes how you operate a restaurant.”
Some time in the next 50 years, he predicts, operators will rely solely on cloud technology to store data, and integration will connect the back of the house, the front of the house, and consumers’ mobile devices. “And in 50 years, if you want us to know who you are when you walk up, we will,” Pigliacampo says. “With zero prompting, we can see a person’s name, order history, and all of their interactions with our brand.” That is to say, data won’t just extend to internal restaurant operations, but will also provide highly specified demographic insight and targeted marketing opportunities.
While the public isn’t too keen on big data collection today, Siko says, that should change in the near feature. Why? Convenience, he says.
“While we’re very concerned about transparency and giving up our information, there are a lot of times we’ll give it up for convenience’s sake, and that’s where I think marketing and technology will merge to make us more likely to share that information,” he says.
Siko believes restaurants will benefit when appliance companies like General Electric partner with companies like Google to provide consumer data on the frequency and use habits of consumers who purchase their refrigerators, stoves, and more. “You could see something like a refrigerator being able to communicate how full or empty it is, and if that information is available to a restaurateur, it could provide a targeted marketing opportunity,” Siko says. “It’s comparable to targeted social banner ads on sites like Facebook today.”
For its part, social media will only grow in importance for restaurants, Riehle says. As competition increases and growth lags, generating direct demand will be key to survival, and social media allows an operator to target promotional messages to specific geographic locations and certain demographics, he says. In the future, smarter social media marketing could allow operators to send messages directly to potential diners within the vicinity of a specific restaurant location or push certain promotions to guests with a purchase history that suggests they would take advantage of the deal.
For all these innovations that could increase business, restaurant operators can expect just as many challenges to growth and prosperity, especially legacy brands. The old fast-food experience won’t cut it in the future, Webster says. Some brands have gotten the hint: 45-year-old Wendy’s and 50-year-old Arby’s both revamped their systems this year, modernizing design, menu, and operations.
“We’ve seen legacy brands branch out from their original identities to leverage new eating patterns and consumer demands. McDonald’s McCafé is a great example,” Webster says. “I think, in 50 years, these changes will probably be more extreme and more fundamental, but there’s no reason not to believe most legacy brands will still be around—they may just look radically different to future consumers than they did 10, 20, or 50 years ago.”
Freshii’s Corrin says legacy brands have an advantage in their large numbers, one they can lend to more upstart brands by creating shared-space concepts. “Rent will continue to rise, which means that restaurants will have to be more efficient with their space and consider smaller storefronts,” he says, adding that such a relationship, while not quite a cobrand, offers mutual benefits.
Regardless of a brand’s size or age, all restaurant chains should expect to face increased governmental regulations in the coming decades. Within the next few years, chains should expect nutritional information disclosure to be standardized and regulated, says Scott DeFife, the NRA’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs. Up next, local government will impose more environmental regulations that have an impact on waste disposal and energy-efficient equipment, he says.
“Ten years down the road, we need to concern ourselves more with water supply,” DeFife says. “Water as a commodity is not taken for granted, and there certainly could be more water and waste-water restrictions.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while the national population doubled between 1950 and 2000, the demand for water tripled during the same time frame.
To address the issue, the NRA launched the Conserve Program, aiming connect restaurant operators with best practices and training tools to increase the sustainability of a restaurant operation. To promote water conservation, the Conserve Program helps operators implement a tracking program to measure how much water a unit uses and evaluate opportunities to reduce use. The program also focuses on energy conservation, recycling, and waste reduction.
Regardless of what plays out over the next several decades, restaurant operators should expect all changes and trends to emerge faster than ever. Datassential’s Webster points to how the food-trend cycle has reduced from 10–15-year cycles to 5–6-year cycles. And she expects that cycle to average 1–3 years in the near future.
“To say it’s critical for [quick serves] to stay on top of trends is a serious understatement now,” she says. “In 50 years, it will mean, likely, the life or death of a restaurant operator. … Operators that want to stay ahead and be cutting edge will need to be incredibly nimble when it comes to picking up and applying trends extremely quickly.”
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