The past few years have made it clear that restaurants must adapt to stay profitable and grow. Investing in new technology is an excellent path forward, but not all tech offers equal benefits. Owners and operators must carefully consider which specific quick-service restaurant technology investments make the most sense.
Any new technology requires upfront investment, and many cutting-edge solutions aren’t cheap. Consequently, quick-service restaurants should look for technologies that offer near-term savings and long-term growth opportunities to make the most of these investments.
1. QR Code Systems
QR codes are one of the best restaurant technologies because they’re easy to implement and versatile. Quick-service restaurants can generate QR codes at low costs—sometimes even for free—and use them for everything from digital menus to scan-to-pay options.
Consumers appreciate QR code payments because they bring the speed and convenience of online shopping to in-person purchases. Demand for seamless transactions is so significant that over one-third of users who prefer paying with QR codes won’t buy anything if these options aren’t available. Similarly, buyers using QR codes are some of the most loyal.
Using QR codes to digitize payments, menus, and exclusive deals lets restaurants easily monitor buyer behaviors. Each digital interaction generates data managers can use to see what people are buying, what they initially add but abandon, what deals they capitalize on and more. These insights can inform more effective marketing strategies.
2. Mobile Apps
Consumer-facing apps are another relatively affordable and profitable quick-service restaurant technology. Almost everyone has a smartphone, and people are relying on these devices more. Dedicated mobile apps let restaurants meet buyers where they’re already the most active.
Restaurant apps can offer easy online ordering for pickup or delivery, both of which have skyrocketed in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, they can integrate with existing reservation or third-party delivery platforms for a more seamless customer experience. These accessible self-service options are crucial for reaching today’s digital-native customers.
Apps are also a great place to offer loyalty programs and exclusive sales to generate more user interaction. This engagement from customers will drive more business and provide QSRs with additional data on their client base.
3. Supply Chain Tracking Solutions
Behind-the-scenes quick-service technology is also a good investment. In today’s market, supply chain trackers are among the most beneficial of these solutions, especially as restaurants expand.
Supply chains across all sectors have experienced extensive disruptions over the past few years, revealing the need for more transparency. Visibility is even greater in the food industry due to the growing demand for fresh foods, rising online orders and larger food safety concerns. Internet of Things (IoT) tracking helps quick-serves address all these concerns.
IoT sensors provide real-time data on shipments throughout the supply chain, including their location and quality factors like storage temperature. Restaurants can use that information to pinpoint supply chain bottlenecks and quality issues to ensure timelier, fresher deliveries. Sometimes, they can pass this data to other stakeholders and customers to increase brand trust.
4. Artificial Intelligence
It’s impossible to speak of growing technologies today and not mention artificial intelligence (AI). AI has seen rapid growth across virtually every industry, largely in the form of generative AI. While generative models may not be as useful in food service as in other sectors, analytical AI has significant advantages for quick-service restaurants.
Restaurants can use AI to analyze customer data to reveal underserved markets or unmet consumer needs. Some food and beverage companies have used these insights to predict market shifts and respond accordingly to promote growth and minimize losses. Others use it to identify new flavor combinations or food pairings that appeal to customers.
AI analytics can also refine internal processes. Quick-serves can use it to identify inefficiencies in their workflows or supply chains, informing effective adjustments to save time and money.
Automation is a similar quick-service technology that deserves attention. Some restaurants have made headlines for putting robots in the kitchen, to mixed public reception. While kitchen robotics can be useful to mitigate ongoing labor shortages, not all automation has to be this dramatic.
Software automation is also valuable and often less disruptive to implement. Administrative tasks like scheduling and payroll take a lot of time and are prone to costly errors but are easy to automate. Because automation is faster and more accurate with data-centric tasks like this, it can reduce payroll costs by 80 percent and free up hundreds of hours over the year.
Automating managerial tasks lets restaurant managers spend more time helping employees with customer-facing jobs. As a result, the restaurant can serve more people at a higher quality standard, enabling easier growth. The resulting cost savings can also reduce menu prices to attract more customers.
General Quick-Service Technology Tips
Regardless of which specific quick-service restaurant technologies restaurants invest in, there are a few general guidelines to remember. The first and most important is considering ease of implementation when selecting any tech solution.
A lack of talent is the leading barrier to tech adoption for small businesses. These gaps mean brands may struggle to achieve a significant ROI with more complex systems, even if the technology can theoretically do more. Investing in more accessible alternatives like QR code systems, no-code, prebuilt AI and app development solutions will yield better results.
Cost barriers are another common issue with technology investments. Restaurants can overcome these obstacles by opting for longer rollout timelines. Businesses should apply new tech to a single process first, starting with the one with the most to gain. They can expand as they see returns, using lessons learned in the initial rollout.
Quick-service restaurant should also avoid investing in technology for technology’s sake. Investments in “cool” tech won’t likely yield long-term benefits. If it doesn’t solve a real issue, it’s not worth the investment. Focusing on solutions with tangible value propositions for the restaurant’s customers is better.
Smart QSR Technology Investments Provide a Way Forward
Investing in technology is an excellent way to emerge stronger from a rough economic patch and ensure future growth. However, these investments must be smart to succeed.
These five quick-service restaurant technologies represent some of the most beneficial for restaurants today. Using these solutions as a starting point will help restaurants serve their customers better and reduce internal bottlenecks for a more profitable future.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over five years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.