The New Realities of Diner Preferences and the Tech to Capitalize on It

    Dining trends are evolving, and we’re watching it happen in real-time.

    Outside Insights | September 21, 2022 | Jon Squire
    Barista handing coffee to a customer.
    Adobe Stock
    Many savvy restaurant operators are leveraging technology like pay-at-table options, digital reservations and check-ins, and text-to-pay features to provide diners with their desired experience.

    It’s no surprise that online ordering took off in 2020, but two years later, it’s time to take a fresh look at the new realities of the restaurant industry and the technology powering it. Mobile technology played a significant role in enabling this service and keeping many restaurant businesses afloat—especially true for take-out and delivery orders. Flexible ordering options have actually become a staple in the food service industry as many customers now expect to be able to place their orders before they ever arrive. 

    However, demand for these digital delivery options has fallen by 9 percent in 2022’s first quarter, while dine-in visits increased by 38 percent. And despite the slight drop in delivery, online ordering for in-person and carry-out orders has held steady. Diners missed the experience of sharing a meal in person. While returning to in-person dining is great, customers still expect the modern, convenient, personalized experience they grew accustomed to over the past two years.   

    Dining trends are evolving, and we’re watching it happen in real-time. For restaurants to thrive during this evolution, operators must accept that convenience and experience matter most to customers. The proper technology can help them execute on this to drive traffic and sales, for both take-out and dine-in.

    In-Dining Experiences are Important for Restaurant Goers

    The factors driving success in the restaurant industry have always been great food, a comfortable atmosphere, and customer service. These experiences are the linchpins behind patron loyalty, foot traffic, and spending. However, as diners return to restaurants, they often experience smaller staffs, higher prices and longer waits as many operators are cutting down on menu items, available tables, and hours of operation. 

    While this may not seem like an ideal scenario, it hasn’t discouraged customers from flocking to their favorite eateries. In fact, according to a recent industry report, the opposite has happened, as customers are open to paying more when dining out and are willing to spend on a high-end experience.

    Armed with this knowledge, many savvy restaurant operators are leveraging technology like pay-at-table options, digital reservations and check-ins, and text-to-pay features to provide diners with their desired experience. This infusion of technology has become a win-win—operators can free up staff to better respond to customer requests and protect (in some cases grow) their revenue, and customers can enjoy themselves. So regardless of the recent shift, restaurants utilizing the right technologies to accommodate elevated customer needs will remain in high demand and succeed during this time change.

    There is Still a Role for Online Ordering to Maximize Restaurant Profits                  

    Restaurants recognize the ability to deliver on modern customer experiences will only increase in importance moving forward. But with the pressures of inflation and industry-wide challenges like staffing shortages, many operators are also shifting resources toward more cost-efficient endeavors—this includes embracing digital options for take-out orders. But for some businesses, it may not be clear how helpful online ordering is to their operations.

    Despite searches for take-out declining 31 percent in 2022’s first quarter, diners still value the service as searches for take-out are up 144 percent compared to 2019. Despite the ambiance and social benefits of in-person dining, customers still care about the comfort and convenience of ordering food online.  Customers have grown accustomed to having the ability to digitally place an order and have it ready for pickup when they arrive. In fact, some businesses have done away with call-ins and have defaulted to having all take-out orders go through some website or app.                 

    Where dine-in customers are willing to pay extra for desired experiences, online ordering systems allow patrons to avoid many of the time-related stresses of going into a restaurant. For the businesses themselves, online ordering can drive greater revenue and “keep the lights on” as many people are willing to order more items online from the comfort of their homes.                                                                               

    In-Dining and Online Ordering Play Key Roles in Fueling Sales and Traffic

    At the core of this industry, restaurant goers want fast and efficient interactions. Whether patrons are dining in or ordering online, technology has influenced customer preferences and spending habits toward businesses that can provide these experiences. Every restaurant business is feeling the impact of post-pandemic life and the current fight against inflation. However, operators implementing the right technology to satisfy both take-out and dine-in customers can fortify their business to withstand the next change in customer preferences or economic conditions.                                            

    The global foodservice sector has already recognized this trend, as the food technology market’s value has grown to $220.32 billion. These digital tools help restaurants tackle shifting food service preferences and enable them to meet evolving customer needs. Thanks to increased competition and seemingly permanent changes in consumer behavior, the adoption and evolution of these services will increase.

    Jon Squire is the CEO and co-founder of CardFree. He has more than 20 years of business, marketing, and product development experience in financial services and emerging technologies. Jon founded CardFree in 2012 with the vision of filling a gap in the marketplace for an integrated commerce platform for large merchants. Jon has consistently driven innovation and created world-class product offerings in new categories. He launched the first national mobile P2P offering in partnership with Sprint and PayPal and is well known for his leading-edge work with NFC, barcode, and alternative technologies that integrate with the point of sale. Earlier in his career, he also led mobile/e-commerce payment initiatives for Wells Fargo and ran E*TRADE Advisory Services.