In a fiercely competitive landscape like the quick-service restaurant industry, innovation is the name of the game. While time-tested strategies such as celebrity partnerships and limited-time menu offerings remain effective in creating competitive differentiation, restaurants are also investing significant resources into building digital-first offerings. But as they adapt to a new world of employee and customer engagement through offerings such as mobile ordering, self-service kiosks, and AI-enabled personalization efforts, restaurants also have to rethink the back-of-the-house tech stack.

Beneath digital advancements lies an often-overlooked component: what happens to digital offerings when the internet goes down? For example, due to poor connectivity, a customer may not be able to check in on their mobile app for curbside pickup, or a drive thru line gets abnormally long as an employee can’t input a customer’s order quickly. Events such as these not only impact a restaurant’s immediate financial performance but can also exert an unpredictable influence on a customer’s trust and loyalty.

To ensure digital-first applications work as intended, quick-serves and other brands are turning toward cloud-optional technology—a new way to build applications. Let’s dive into why and how. 

Looking beyond the cloud

Quick-service restaurants frequently leverage cloud technology to support their applications. The transition to cloud technology over the past decade has undeniably accelerated innovation thanks to the flexibility it provides, but it didn’t come without substantial reliability challenges and architectural complexity.

Cloud-based systems rely heavily on a stable internet connection, an assumption that doesn’t always hold. A strong internet connection may seem like table stakes in this day and age, but when your business needs to support low-latency applications, this is far from guaranteed. Low latency simply means that apps can provide responses with minimal delay. 

Even urban restaurant locations encounter recurring reliability challenges, which are further amplified in rural areas and unconventional settings such as food trucks.

To combat the fragility of cloud-only architectures, restaurants and other retail operations have resorted back to on-premise servers. However, this approach can be expensive, complicated, and impractical for mobile or non-traditional experiences such as pop-up shops, food trucks, stadiums, and festivals. Moreover, it constrains quick-service restaurants’ agility to swiftly deploy new technologies in response to evolving customer demands.

But recently a third option has emerged: the concept of “cloud-optional.” This game-changing approach empowers applications to function with or without an internet connection.

Finding value from back-end technology 

Real-time coordination is key for quick-serves, where speed and efficiency are the cornerstone of exceptional customer service. Cloud-optional technology helps operators achieve real-time coordination as it allows applications to continue operating offline. An important use case is point-of-sale (POS) systems. Orders taken on the front-of-house POS can still be shared in real-time across local devices such as iPads in the drive-thru or kitchen display systems in the kitchen, even when the internet is not available. All data changes are stored locally and seamlessly synchronized when local devices or cloud connectivity becomes available. It marries the reliability of on-premises systems with the cost-efficiency and flexibility of the cloud. This means applications that customers enjoy and employees rely on continue working, even when internet access is unavailable.

Take Chick-fil-A as an example. It recently created a new point-of-sale system based off of cloud-optional technology. The next-generation POS system will operate independently of an internet connection, providing more resilience to outages, enhanced speed, and flexible control to deliver a reliable end-user experience. As a result, operators and their teams will be able to deliver the Chick-fil-A experience customers expect, regardless of sales channel, internet strength, or connectivity.

As Chris Taylor, senior director, customer technology solutions at Chick-fil-A, said, “We want to bring the same commitment to operational excellence and customer care that you see at our restaurants, and extend that to the things guests can’t see, like technology.” Now, according to Chris, “… key operational data [moves] between restaurant Team Members quickly, seamlessly and with no round trips to central services. The more control and information we can put in the hands of Operators and their teams, the better they can care for customers.”

Making sure technology works the way it should

Despite substantial investments aimed at enhancing the overall dining experience, challenges arise when back-end infrastructure is ill-equipped to support innovations. With the arrival of cloud-optional technology, quick-serves can future-proof back-end technology while integrating new applications seamlessly.

At the end of the day, quick-service restaurants now have the power and agility to optimize their current and future investments while also exceeding the expectations of customers and employees alike. 

Adam Fish is CEO and cofounder of Ditto, creator of an edge sync platform that enables apps to synchronize data in real-time, even without internet connectivity.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology