In every obstacle there is an opportunity, if we are only prepared to take it on. Today, COVID-19 has presented itself with a logical puzzle for the quick-service restaurant industry and digital technology is here to solve the problems that it has brought forward in a smooth way. Businesses have been adversely affected and normalcy totally disrupted. Customer behaviour and preferences are continuously changing. The “new norm” is adaptability and digital technologies are leading from the front helping restaurants serve customers faster and better by keeping up with their changing expectations and desires.
Technology has been uncovering some of the blind spots in the restaurant sector, an industry that had annual sales of nearly $800 billion worldwide until the pandemic hit. As per reports, the industry has already lost $120 billion business due to the crisis. The faster technologies are adopted, the better it is for the quick-service industry. Online and mobile commerce is consolidating worldwide, while personalized marketing is the way to go. Geo-location, real-time business intelligence, digital kiosks, contactless delivery, and labor and inventory management are going to transform the field.
Online & Mobile Commerce
With restaurant traffic hit, online and mobile commerce is increasingly at play. Digital restaurant orders are surging by the day and as per a study by The NPD group, it had touched 63 percent and delivery by 67 percent, with quick-serves accounting for a big chunk of this growth. The global market size in restaurant tech has been pegged around $12 billion, a number only said to grow as brands invest in providing engaging digital experiences from ordering to promotions and delivery.
In recent years, marketing automation platforms have enabled quick-serves to track customer behaviour and purchase trends across platforms. Research suggests that customers are willing to share data to get personalized experiences. By applying advanced algorithms, brands can cull out deep insights to offer personalized products and recommendations to match the evolving customer needs. AI-power, cloud technology and advanced analytics are capable of providing accurate forecasts in the form of snackable information for businesses to use. Big guns such as McDonald’s, Domino’s, and KFC have been quick on the uptake of technology to move from standardization to personalization of orders.
A combination of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and location analytics tools are allowing chains to do location-based targeting. It allows them to identify customers who are in vicinity and push relevant recommendations and offers to attract customers. Fast-food chains such as Wendy’s and Burger King have driven-up sales with the help of demographic-based analytics. Via their smartphone application, Burger King has pulled customers away from McDonalds by offering patrons Whoppers at just 1 cent.
In the world of quick-service, speed determines the winner. Geo-tracking has also enabled delivery drivers to find the quickest possible routes making fast-food even quicker.
Real-time Business Intelligence
Restaurants that are armed with real-time business intelligence are better positioned to make informed decisions. BI and analytics software offer a gamut of insights into a restaurant’s performance, based on which the restaurant can quickly adapt itself on the dynamics of the quick-service industry. AI algorithms help forecast sales considering temperature, humidity, rain, etc. as well as create winning menu combos based on product affinities. BI gives the Big Picture.
Digital kiosks for self-service
The global kiosk market (yes, it exists), is to reach $30.8 billion by 2024, according to a market study. Digital kiosks offer contact-less experiences and remove the possibility of misplaced orders arising due to human fallibility. Digital menus integrated with CRM and POS software can offer personalized experiences, provide menu suggestions and promote on-going offers to maximize sales.
Companies are also taking advantage of technology to enhance the drive-thru experience. For example, Chipotle has a lane dedicated to mobile orders with its “Chipotlanes,” while CAVA is following suit.
Digitally-enabled contactless delivery
Customers can browse through their options, place orders and make payments via their mobile applications or a digital kiosk without any human interface, until it’s time to receive their order. Well, contact-less delivery or even pick-up enables a completely safe exchange. This even offers an opportunity for brand building as ensuring safety will garner trust. Many third party aggregators such as GrubHub and UberEats already give you the option for contact-less delivery.
Taking technology a step further, we could even see drone delivery in the near future. In 2016, Domino’s tested out drone delivery for pizzas in Auckland, New Zealand. Chipotle also tested it out for burritos in Virginia. UberEats also plans on launching drone delivery in San Diego.
Labor and Inventory management
From customer experience to staffing patterns, digital technologies are handy. What is staring at the industry is mass unemployment and huge business loss due to inefficient resource management. Insights provided by analytics can help with a number of things from deploying appropriate staff at the right time to training the staff and measuring the productivity.
Adoption of digital technologies is helping the quick-service segment move from intuitive action to informed decision making. It is a means by which the restaurant industry can enhance the customer experience in a remote and safe manner, the need of the hour.
Sameer Narula is the Chief Product Officer at Manthan responsible for product vision, adoption, and revenue growth across product lines and driving the next generation of industry-leading products, technology and innovation. He has been part of the technology industry and its exciting journey for over two decades—as a technologist, strategy advisor, industry executive, and entrepreneur; with expertise in handling complex technology-led business applications—from concept to delivery for mid to large organizations. He also has significant experience of working with niche/start-up technology companies in founding or early-stage core team member capacity. He has worked and lived across India, and U.S.