Anyone who eats at a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant has a story of the time they waited forever for their order, or the time they got someone else’s order, or the double-whammy – waiting forever only to get the wrong order.
It’s frustrating (and understandable). Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are busier than ever. According to a recent CDC report, Americans between 20 to 39 years old (44.9 percent of Americans) consume fast food on a daily basis.
Although COVID had a dramatic impact on much of the restaurant and leisure industries, larger quick-service and fast-casual restaurant chains have rebounded—though not without some significant changes. COVID caused many brands to rethink the old way of doing business and adopt new strategies to meet the changing needs of their customers.
Technology has become increasingly important to quick service and fast casual restaurants looking to adapt to an increase in to-go orders, increased demand for superior customer experience, and greater insights into their processes.
Lack of technology is not the problem
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants do not suffer from lack of technology. With the growth of digital orders, ordering apps, and demand for excellent customer service, restaurant brands have been steadily stacking technology.
They have multiple systems in place including (and not limited to):
- Point of Sale (POS) systems
- Digital Menu Boards
- Mobile Ordering and Payment
- Self-Service Kiosks
- Kitchen Display Systems (KDS)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems
- Online Ordering and Delivery, Loyalty Programs
- Inventory Management Systems
- Data Analytics
Although each of these technologies has value, in totality they represent a clunky tech stack that can be difficult to manage cohesively and to truly measure ROI. None of these technologies provide the data restaurants need to make real-time decisions to significantly improve operations.
Fortunately, technology continues to improve—at warp speed.
Quick-service and fast-casual restaurants don’t need more technology, they need better technology.
Restaurants continue to face significant problems regarding lack of meaningful, actionable insights.
POS technology can provide convenient checkouts while kitchen display systems can help the kitchen staff manage orders. Digital menu boards and online ordering systems can help improve customer experience. However, current data analytics can only be analyzed retroactively to spot trends and outliers to impact future decision-making.
Payment and ordering technology systems are clearly important and ubiquitous across the industry. They provide added conveniences for customers—especially as the bulk of quick-service and fast-casual restaurant orders continue to be off-premises (nearly 60 percent).
Additionally, custom orders and the demand for more personalized menus are on the rise. Restaurant apps, mobile ordering systems, self-ordering kiosks, and order confirmation boards are all technologies aimed at providing customers exactly what they want. Loyalty rewards programs (and the tech that manages them) are the proverbially icing on the cake (ketchup on the French fry?).
Improving customer experience is a focus for nearly all quick-service and fast-casual restaurant brands and these kinds of solutions are only part of that equation. User-friendly apps and customizable, personalized menus are only as successful as your restaurant’s ability to correctly fulfill and execute all those specialty orders. If your order is continually wrong or takes too long to process, loyalty rewards programs can only do so much.
Data analytics are also widely used across the industry and touted for their valuable insights. Indeed, understanding popular menu items, how much food is wasted, preferred payment methods, favorite dishes, wait times, and ordering trends is valuable to improving overall performance. But none of this data can tell you what’s happening in your restaurant as it happens. This kind of real-time, critical data has historically been impossible to garner. (Spoiler alert: Not anymore.)
Less is More
The problem for many quick-service and fast-casual restaurants is not a lack of technology but rather, unwieldy tech stacks that have lost their punch—like adding more and more seasonings in an attempt to improve a recipe only to sabotage it. (Just me?)
With the growth of online orders via restaurant apps and multiple food delivery services, fast food orders have become more complex. According to Zippia, “Online food ordering has grown 300 percent faster than dine-in since 2014 and now accounts for roughly 40 percent of the total restaurant sales.”
Brands are focused on creating better guest experiences, because the order channel (both on and off-premises) mix is more complex than ever. However, improving the off-premise experience continues to be a challenge even with the abundance of technologies restaurants employ.
Many fast casual restaurants are particularly struggling with order accuracy and timing. In order to improve customer experience, many brands are looking to improve kitchen fulfillment.
Unfortunately, current technology solutions can’t really address these issues. Fast casual and quick service restaurants need to understand exactly how long it takes to fulfill orders, choke points in the line, and how to effectively manage custom orders. They need a way to track orders at every step in the order fulfillment process —like an extra set of eyes. They need computer vision.
Computer Vision Delivers
Led by quick-service giants like McDonald’s, brands are increasingly looking to AI and machine learning technologies to gain better data to improve order fulfillment.
The real benefit of AI and ML solutions like computer vision is the real-time data it garners. Computer vision applications can be trained to detect ingredients, staff, packaging, and plates so restaurant operators can see into their operations like never before.
From the time an order is received to the time it reaches the hands of the customer, the order can be tracked in real-time. This kind of oversight is disrupting the industry. Those who invest in computer vision will benefit from meaningful, actionable data that will dramatically boost ROI.
Computer vision can:
- Understand exact order fulfillment times
- Identify choke points in the order fulfillment line
- Allow managers to make staffing adjustments in real-time
- Count customers and wait times in restaurants and at drive-thrus
- Identify delivery people batching orders
- Track ingredients and equipment use
- Integrate with current technology systems in place such as Toast
Computer vision easily integrates with most of the systems you’re already using. It allows you to leverage existing cameras, does not require any type of kitchen or dining area remodels and delivers the meaningful real-time data currently unavailable to operators. Computer vision allows restaurants to focus on what they do best – delivering smiles.
Don’t Get Left Behind
At this year’s MURTEC conference, Tom Seeker, CIO at Earl Enterprises was asked what he thought was going to change the industry. “His answer was clear: anything that helps to understand the customer better while making rapid, real-time adjustments and changes to meet their needs.” Computer vision delivers.
Kathleen Siddell is a Content Marketing Specialist at alwaysAI, an enterprise computer vision solutions provider. Through deep learning AI, computer vision enables cameras to quickly identify and interpret objects in the physical world and generate data to enable intelligent management decisions. Capture everything that is happening in restaurants to improve operational efficiencies and customer experience with unprecedented real-time data. Visit our website to learn more.