Smoked brisket and Korean crossover—menus change all the time—but so do customers’ technology habits, particularly when it comes to mobile.

In casual and quick-service dining, the future will depend on how well operators adapt to the dominance of smartphones in customers’ lives.

It’s not a question of short-lived gimmicky promotional apps. Customers now expect to choose, order, receive offers, and store loyalty points on their phones with as much ease as messaging their friends. If they cannot, the lack of functionality will discourage them from remaining customers in the same way a sirloin cheeseburger is a turnoff for vegans.

Quick-serve operators cannot afford to ignore the way smartphone technology is radically altering customer expectations. Research from BRP Consulting found that 38 percent of dining experiences now involve smartphone or mobile devices—from initial research to sharing the experience on social media. It’s a trend that is gathering strength. Millennials, almost all of who grew into adulthood using smartphones, will overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the U.S. next year, according to Pew Research. Patience among this generation has worn thin and restaurants lacking time-saving technologies such as ordering ahead, self-scanning or in-app payments will see customers melt away.

Slick, multi-functional apps are a necessity

Apps are central to everything. They must enable diners to order, pay, use vouchers or participate in loyalty programs and discounts at the touch of a smartphone screen. Scan-and-go technology speeds up the whole restaurant experience through push-button in-app payments so that customers do not have to wait for staff with a payment device.

Apps need to excel on all these fronts, especially by enabling customers to beat lines. Research by Omnico among 1,500 U.S. and U.K. quick-service restaurant diners reveals how crucial this is. Six in 10 customers regard waiting in line for food or to pay as the main discouragements to visiting a restaurant more often.

This is probably why 81 percent said they would use a restaurant more often if they could order in advance and then pick up their meal from a collection point at a pre-arranged time. More than half (52 percent) said they would prefer to use this method on each visit. Order ahead menus built into apps increase order sizes through the power of personalization, using specifically targeted upsell and cross-sell suggestions that tempt their taste buds.

Based on survey responses, app-based payments would generate an average 1.23 extra visits per person per week, while ordering ahead using an app would generate 1.14 extra visits per customer. The benefits for operators are not just in extra visits and bigger order sizes. Orders sent directly to the kitchen via apps cut down food wastage and rationalize staffing requirements by introducing greater predictability.  

Real-time loyalty

Loyalty programs are another revenue-builder massively boosted by integration into smartphone apps. Starbucks has invested time and money in its rewards program, resulting in 15 million members. The greater loyalty a customer has, the easier it is to persuade them through the doors more often. In the Omnico research, 70 percent of respondents said they would visit a restaurant more often if it had a loyalty program that offered them a full variety of discount options and deals.

Responses indicated that if an operator has a program offering rewards redeemable against future meals or beverages, then the average customer would make up to two extra visits each week. Offers sent to a customer’s phone would generate an extra 1.77 visits per person on a weekly basis.

You must crunch the data effectively

Making all this work, however, requires more than ad hoc investment in apps and mobile payments. It requires investment in a digital platform that pulls everything together to provide a smart, slick app that increases order sizes and keeps customers coming back. It requires one view of the customer, with a level of real-time consistency that enables consumers to access loyalty rewards, personalized offers and promotions consistently, every time they interact with the brand.

It is, of course, no accident that McDonald’s has invested in Plexure to power engagement with consumers on mobile devices, using offers, loyalty programs and ordering to increase order frequency. McDonald’s understands that personalization, the ability to act on fast-moving trends and the creation of simple interfaces are how they meet new customer expectations.

It is through this advanced customer-facing technology that the quick-service restaurant sector can compete with the rise of delivery apps and increased eating at home. Operators need to invest in the apps and solutions that put power in the hands of the customer, giving them the ability to order, pay and use loyalty points.

The Omnico research found that 58 percent of customers would visit a restaurant more often if experience-enhancing technologies were available. This is a broad-brush statistic but indicates the rapidly growing importance of data-driven innovation in restaurants. With a genuine focus on mobile solutions and apps that hit the spot for customers wedded to the convenience of smartphones, quick-serve operators will maintain competitiveness, increase order sizes, boost visit-frequency and ramp up loyalty.

Mel Taylor has been CEO at Omnico since November 2014. The company provides seamless Cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) and customer engagement solutions across the retail, F&B, destination and hospitality sectors.
Ordering, Outside Insights, Story, Technology