Since 2020, the hospitality sector has faced arguably the most challenging macro environment for decades. With lockdowns, social distancing, and rising costs across the board, restaurants have been forced to rethink their strategies to keep up with a challenging economy and changing customer behaviours.
But surprisingly, despite the earlier pandemic decline, and the more recent cost-of-living crisis, the fast-food sector has thrived; in 2021 alone, it was worth £13.8bn, up 18.9% on the previous year (Lumia Intelligence UK Eating Out Market Report, 2021). And it continues to grow; research shows that over a quarter of Gen Z (28%) and over a third of Millennials (36%) now eat fast food at least once a week.
“Understanding changing customer behaviours and investing in the right consumer engaging technologies to meet these needs is a major opportunity for the hospitality sector that can’t be underestimated.” - Peter Edwards, CEO, Evoke
So, how has the industry managed to the weather the storm and how can restaurants increase their share of this ever-growing market?
Quick Serve Restaurants are the blueprint for the industry-wide pivot
The hospitality industry has been thrust into a new era of customer service. Those doing it right are seeing more than improved customer satisfaction; they are growing their customer base, improving average spend and increasing their market share. Restaurants offering flexible, low-contact, and integrated self-service options are recovering more quickly from the pandemic; quick service restaurants saw the second fastest pandemic recovery, reaching 86.8% of its pre-pandemic value in 2021 (Lumia Intelligence UK Eating Out Market Report, 2021).
Even in the context of the wider eating out market, quick service restaurants are dominant at the top. In 2021 McDonald’s kept the number one spot, but behind them the movement is driven by brands offering low-cost, low-contact solutions (Lumia Intelligence UK Eating Out Market Report, 2021).
As much of the quick serve sector fared so well (relatively) during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that we saw many larger casual dining brands make the pivot to offer similar, connected ‘spin-off’ services in order to compete. With distancing requirements shattering the ability to offer eat-in dining, restaurants turned to delivery and curbside pick-up services.
Many might have assumed it was a temporary pivot to ride out the pandemic. However, consumers have embraced low contact eating out; they increasingly prefer using self-service technologies and enjoy the flexibility and speed of service it gives them. Casual Dining brands that have seen the benefits from a competitive point of view are also starting to see the benefits to revenue and customer satisfaction as well with better customer journeys and even in some cases, better reach into markets.
The restaurant and consumer relationship has accelerated towards choice, convenience and connected experiences. Underpinning it all – reliable, enterprise ready, technological innovation.
Technology is changing the restaurant industry
Just as mobile and self-service technology enabled restaurants to pivot during Covid , to support their customers, these technologies continue to mature and profitably enhance the continually evolving casual dining guest experience. Technology is innovating at a rapid pace and when coupled with cleverly developed and brand-led design it’s easy to see how it can be adapted to most brands and service formats. No longer are brands having to choose between customer service and tech; they can now do both.
- Self-serve kiosks: For consumers happier with lower contact, in-restaurant technology like self-serve kiosks provides an engaging menu and a self-service electronic point of sale (EPOS) It also offers brands great opportunities operationally and from a revenue point of view. The technology behind self-serve kiosks has developed so much, often producing up to 30% increase in average basket size and substantially lower wait times. With 32% of consumers now commonly preferring self-service experience, it’s easy to see why brands are trying kiosks more and more.
- Drive-thrus: With some quick serve restaurants reporting that up to 50% of their sales come through the drive thru channel, having a high quality, interconnected drive thru that works seamlessly with the kitchen can make a huge difference. Research shows that an effective drive thru set up can not only simplify the process for both customer and operator; it can increase the average transaction amount by up to 30%.
- Loyalty apps: Loyalty programmes can not only help restaurants to offer a more personalised service with targeted deals, but they can also help restaurants to analyse consumer habits and orders to plan food delivery and future menu options with software and integrated POS.
For restaurant chains looking to grow market share in a crowded and competitive market, they will need to keep on top of both the technological and consumer trends impacting quick serve restaurants. Knowing what consumers want, and how they want to interact with the hospitality industry is only part of the story. Carefully selecting technology and using it strategically to improve the experience for consumers, streamline operations, and reduce costs is critical to competing in an increasingly tech driven market. Seamless, integrated, and personalised experiences across all digital and in-person interactions is the expectation – choosing the right technology will make it possible.