The pandemic has forced retailers—and their customers—to look at things differently. As mall and in-store traffic and in-restaurant dining dwindle, retailers are reimagining the physical footprint of their stores to meet customers’ changing needs.

Quick-service restaurants have had to rethink entirely how they do business, from digital orders to drive thrus, and curbside pick to buying online or picking up in-store. But what quick-serves lacked in physical space, they made up for in next-generation technology.

In today’s fast-paced and safety-forward environment, diners are increasingly expecting technology-forward experiences that will help keep them healthy. As restaurants look to meet customer’s demands, here are a few adaptations of technology they should continue to consider:

Touch-less Ordering and Payment Process

Customers are always looking for convenience in their fast-paced lives, and one area that quick-service brands can meet this demand is in the ordering and payment process. Recent research has shown that mobile applications represent roughly 60 percent of all digital restaurant orders. Mobile applications are one way to not only keep transactions touch-less and safe, but also drive customer loyalty by offering points, discounts, or other offers.

Automated checkout systems—which can take a few different forms—are another example of convenience-forward technology. When a customer places an order from a mobile app or in-store pickup, beaconing technology and analytics can be used to recognize the customer and check off the order as paid, all within the WiFi network. This enables the customer the convenience to grab and go. A similar variation of the grab and go is to place mobile orders in an in-store locker. Customers can scan a code from their phone to find their locker and unlock it.

Streamlining the Back-of-House

Along with the above mentioned customer-facing technologies, quick-serves are also using technologies back-of-house to increase sales and streamline operations. One such technology brands are experimenting with is artificial intelligence (AI).

AI can be used to order suggestions and drive upsell opportunities. For example, if a customer has ordered a burger in the past, a mobile app can offer it again as a suggestion, personalizing the customer’s experience. Even if a small percentage of diners take up the offer, this can add significant revenue to the bottom-line.

Quick-service restaurants are also increasingly integrating point-of-sale (POS) systems to streamline operations. POS systems are integrated to drive personalization, and to even send signals to other parts of the restaurant to automate tasks. For example, if a customer orders a milkshake, the POS can send a signal to the milkshake machine to start preparing.

Voice commands are also keeping workers hands-free. These commands can be used to check on the status of an order, create staffing schedules, and to streamline inventory tasks, saving brands time and money.

Communication Network

For all of these technologies to be implemented, a network that supports a quick-service restaurant’s technology and applications is as important as ever. Not only should the underlying connectivity to their locations be fast, but also flexible, reliable, and secure. Having a reliable network means that all applications should be functioning as expected at all times, regardless of the underlying communication network. A scalable network must be able to keep up with increasing demands as more and more customers are using mobile technologies and applications that require higher speeds and throughput. Managing and securing this type of network architecture is critical to protecting customers’ confidential data—and the restaurant’s overall brand reputation.

To address and manage these network requirements, quick-service restaurants are increasingly relying on software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) and Unified Threat Management (UTM). SD-WAN provides both the Network Service Provider and a company’s IT department the control and visibility needed to manage thousands of locations through one, centralized system. UTM allows for the protection of the data that is coming in and going out of their restaurant locations. When the security of one restaurant location is compromised, the entire brand can be put at risk. With high-speed, reliable connectivity and SD-WAN coupled with strong UTM technology, restaurants can help control their environments in a secure manner to power their applications and maintain their brand.

Rising Above the Competition

There are close to 200,000 quick-service restaurant franchises scattered across the United States, and given the current pandemic, competition is fierce when it comes to meeting today’s customer demands. What differentiates successful restaurants to their competitors comes down to the technology being used to streamline operations and ultimately, enhance customer experience.

Glenn Katz serves as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Solutions for Comcast Business, a leader in communication services to the SMB and enterprise marketplace. Katz leads the enterprise solutions organization that sells and delivers managed enterprise solutions to large Fortune 1000-plus enterprise customers nationwide. He holds both a masters and bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, located in Atlanta, Georgia.

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