How Technology Has Changed the Definition of a ‘Restaurant’

The restaurant industry is undergoing a seismic shift. Take-out, delivery, and drive-thru are on pace to make up 63 percent of all restaurant traffic in 2019, according to the National Restaurant Association. This shift in customer expectations has undoubtedly changed how restaurants attract and retain customers.

According to the NRA’s State of the Industry Report for 2019, the fastest growing niches in the restaurant industry are quick-service themed. For example, snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars have grown by 2.1 percent since 2018 whereas sit-down restaurants have grown by just over 1 percent. This suggests that people aren’t willing to give up the restaurant experience, but want to spend less time in them overall.

So how else has technology changed the definition of a ‘restaurant’? Here are a few other ways.

Focusing on Off-Premise

The rapid growth in delivery and take-out technology seems to have no end in sight. According to the NRA, only 1 in 20 restaurant operators have seen a decrease in to-go sales since services such as GrubHub or Doordash began operating.

According to some analysts, to-go sales are the propeller that is taking the restaurant industry to new heights. Projections for the industry suggest that it will hit close to $850 billion in sales this year alone. That’s an increase of nearly 16 percent since 2017.

The Basics

Traditionally, restaurants marketed themselves as a community hangout. This meant they needed to focus on serving great food and offering a pristine customer experience to attract customers.

It seems those days are waning.

Now, restaurants focus on process, efficiency, and technology in order to gain a competitive advantage over one another. This is radically redefining the basics of operating a restaurant.

Thanks to the ubiquity of Google, which dominates the online marketplace for food service and other phone technology, customers have become conditioned to start their forage for a meal on their phone. This has changed the most basic element of food service—conversation.

Luckily, customers are still more likely to use a restaurant’s website to order their food than a third-party delivery system, according to a survey by Toast. However, a growing percentage of customers prefer to eat at home, which has changed the way restaurant staffs can interact with customers as well. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that a decreasing proportion of customers actually want to talk to employees when they visit a restaurant. With a growing number of customers eating at home, and those that don’t want to be bothered while they’re visiting, restaurants have to rethink the basics of how they sell themselves to their patrons.


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