The app generation
Bluedot asked consumers what they felt was the most improved aspect of the fast-food experience since COVID. Fifty-eight percent picked “mobile app ordering,” followed by curbside pickup (44 percent), web ordering (29 percent), drive-thru (25 percent), and offers (21 percent).
The top three least improved areas: Taste, ideal food temperature, and order accuracy.
And on the topic of how habits could change going forward, or if more setbacks arise, 34 percent of guests said they’d place additional mobile app orders, trailed by visit the drive-thru more (34 percent), tap web orders (21 percent), and use curbside.
Of those who still fear for their safety, 52 percent turned to mobile or online ordering.
Again, though, the conversation of late has largely shifted toward convenience as the lasting impact. “Removing friction” is a well-worn page in the playbook. But can operators lean on old consumer trade-offs? For instance, is the drive-thru convenient enough for guests to accept mistakes or antiquated technology? Perhaps, but the leash is tightening.
Consumers in the survey listed their innovation wish list: Designated drive-thru lane for mobile pickup (56 percent); food kept warm at pickup station (42 percent); mobile only ordering for fast and easy pickup (27 percent); restaurant automatically checks customer in upon arrival at curbside (27 percent); and ability to text order to restaurant (27 percent).
Guests also expect more from menuboards. The top features they’d like to see: Shows current order on the screen (55 percent); highlights deals (51 percent); view loyalty points and/or personalized deals (36 percent); highlights limited-time items (34 percent); showcases most-popular items (30 percent); shares suggested menu items based on previous orders (25 percent); and name and usual or most recent order displayed (18 percent).
In addition, 60 percent of respondents increased usage of self-service ordering options in the previous six months, including mobile ordering (48 percent), web ordering (22 percent), and kiosks inside the store (14 percent).
What’s driving frequency is the same storyline that flashed amid COVID—consumers went where friction wasn’t. Six in 10 consumers, even in 2022, said they downloaded at least one new restaurant app in the last three months. It’s held throughout. February (59 percent); September (59 percent); February 2021 (82 percent); August 2020 (63 percent); and April 2020 (51 percent).
According to App Annie, users spent 49 percent more sessions, year-over-year, in food and drink apps last year, reaching the 62 billion mark. Across all of 2021, McDonald’s collected 24 million app downloads in the U.S.
Restaurants raced to this arena because COVID leveled the digital playing field. Guests sought brands as much as platforms, which was a course change from pre-pandemic trends. Previously, the debate over whether or not third-party delivery transactions were, indeed, incremental, was often a question of “was this a customer I would have got before?” Now, guests didn’t take to delivery solely to look for, say, burgers or because they were aggregator loyalists; they wanted food from a specific eatery that closed its front doors. So restaurants worked quickly to enable off-premises.
In a TouchBistro study from early 2022, which focused on full-service restaurants, 34 percent of operators said they were now offering online ordering directly from their website. More than half (57 percent) said they had a loyalty or rewards program of some kind, and two in five implemented loyalty in the last year or two.
Tillster, from a report released roughly the same time, indicated consumers would rather interact directly with their favorite brands. Forty-four percent of respondents said they’d prefer to order delivery directly through the restaurant’s website or mobile app. Less than 10 percent put third-party delivery experiences at the top of their list.
Shake Shack CFO Katie Fogertey told investors at the ICR Conference in January funneling customers into native channels would be a major area of emphasis in 2022. The chain launched a new website in 2021. “We’re building personalized marketing opportunities to help drive frequency and guest connection,” she said. “We just know and we continue to see it, when we bring a guest into our digital ecosystem, we see higher frequency, we see higher checks. There’s a better guest experience associated with that. We just think they understand who we are and the value that we offer more.