A Look inside the Restaurant of the Future

Imagine walking into a new restaurant with few tables. The space isn’t much larger than a local coffee shop, but the front counter is busy ringing up customers and taking to-go orders. Customers eating in are spread far apart. All the while, there is a steady stream of people coming in and out of the establishment. You think to yourself, “What’s the deal?”

According to a new survey by the consulting firm Deloitte, COVID-19 forced the restaurant industry to accelerate the development of new convenience features, safety measures, and a customer-friendly digital experience.

And these changes will be long-lasting. “Customers already wanted convenience and digital connections with their dining experience—either on- or off-premises. Now, a new focus on safety has amplified these demands,” the survey reads.

The survey was conducted before and after the pandemic began, thus allowing Deloitte to measure its impact on consumer preferences. One-on-one interviews with brand executives were also conducted to identify emerging trends and understand how brands were changing to meet their customer’s needs.

Based on this research, the survey identified three key elements that the restaurant of the future must incorporate: ultimate convenience, a frictionless digital experience, and heightened safety measures.

Ultimate Convenience

Consumers have always demanded convenience. But, COVID-19 increased demand for off-premise services, meaning drive-thru, takeout, and delivery options became critical.

During the pandemic, customers are ordering takeout and delivery 46% more often. The Silent Generation and Millennials account for the greatest increases among generational groups, according to the survey.

“Certainly the suspension of on-premises dining was a major factor that required customers to focus even more on convenience,” the survey says. “Even where dining rooms remained open, safety concerns kept many consumers away. The result has been spiking delivery and takeout rates.”

62% of consumers reported patronizing a restaurant because of their takeout and delivery options. This also means delivery costs, wait times, pickup locations, and contact—or a lack thereof are factors customers will perceive about their restaurant experience.

Some brands that already rule the convenience game, according to QSR Magazine, are Panera Bread, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, and Chipotle. Each of these businesses utilizes a mix of third-party delivery systems, online ordering, and hands-off experiences that customers desire.

Increased Safety Measures

COVID-19 exposed how often we take cleanliness for granted. As a result, 87% of consumers expect surfaces to be cleaned after each use, and 85% want to actually see the cleaning take place.

The survey found consumers had also reshaped their habits by adopting active crowd avoidance measures and adjusting to remote work as a response to the pandemic. This places increased pressure on restaurants to take the time to properly sanitize shared surfaces before a table turns.

“Many of the visible changes restaurants have made serve a dual purpose: they not only promote safety and cleanliness, but also signal to customers how seriously management takes that responsibility. The impressions customers get from these measures will shape their trust of a brand—and they’re most likely to dine at places they trust,” the survey concludes.

These changes in consumer behavior were part of the reason Dominique Crenn, the Michelin-starred chef behind Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, invested in a piece of hospital-grade technology to help keep her restaurant clean. Atlier now employs an R-Zero Arc, which uses “energetic waves of ultraviolet light known as germicidal UV that wipe out viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms both on surfaces and in the air,” according to the company’s website.

Other brands have taken a less extreme response to the pandemic, choosing to employ face shields, mask requirements, restricting dine-in service, and implementing strict cleaning regiments. No matter the choice, the restaurant of the future will need to take cleaning very seriously to keep customers consistently coming through their doors.

A Frictionless Digital Experience

Deloitte’s survey found 70% of customers prefer to order digitally, 58% prefer to order from QSR codes, and 57% have a third-party delivery app on their phones. In other words, failing to utilize this technology is a death warrant for restaurants.

This means the restaurant of the future will need to have an up-to-date online ordering system, be easily contactable—either via traditional means or social media—and must cater to the digitally-infused lifestyle.

“Some consumers live to love technology. Some use it because there’s little choice these days. But they’re all accustomed to interacting that way with their retail, banking, and other activities—and they want restaurants to join them on the leading edge,” the survey reads.

Investopedia recently ranked the top POS systems for restaurants in 2020. The website compared plans, features, and hardware options while compiling their list.

They found TouchBistro’s system to be the best overall because it easily integrates an all-in-one inventory, money, and people management system into one package.

The list recommended that business owners on a budget should consider Square, the mobile payment software because it is available for free after purchasing the Square Reader.

“Whatever their preferred method of ordering, consumers said they would pay an average of 14 percent more for the chance to use it—and since 70 percent prefer digital interactions, digital equals dollars,” the survey said.

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