Keeping Up with Diners’ Expectations Amid Rising Prices

Tastes and preferences constantly change as trends come and go, keeping the restaurant industry on its toes. But two non-negotiables have remained strong for diners: convenience and loyalty. With digital and frictionless experiences at the forefront, diners are seeking their favorite restaurants in new, more affordable ways. 

The NCR Voyix 2024 Digital Commerce Index revealed nearly half (48 percent) of consumers dine out less than they used to because inflation is top of the menu. 

Restaurants wanting to offset rising inflation rates and win back their loyal consumers should consider appealing to the current drivers of their purchasing decisions – access to valuable deals and convenience experiences.

Loyalty Reigns Supreme

Although consumers may be more selective on where and when they dine out, they still want to frequent their favorite restaurants and access any deals possible. 

Nearly half of Index respondents signed up for a loyalty program and downloaded the restaurant’s app, while 31 percent signed up for email updates. 

Since most consumers are attached to their smartphones, the best way to stay connected with their favorite restaurants is through mobile apps. However, just because most restaurant chains have hopped on the trend doesn’t mean they’ve mastered all the features diners want and need in a mobile app. To stay in the know, 46 percent of today’s diners want the ability to view their loyalty point balance, 48 percent want to place a delivery request and 56 percent want to track their order from their mobile device.

Some brands’ apps even track mobile-order customers’ location to help ensure their food is fresh, whether it’s a burger or a salad. Through geofencing, the apps can tell when a customer is close, alerting restaurant teams to have the order ready in time – neither too early nor too late. In doing so, they improve the customer experience, which, in turn, increases loyalty.

Ordering Preferences Are Changing 

Food and beverages aren’t the only thing on diners’ minds when they place a restaurant order. They also want convenience and frictionless digital experiences. With loyalty programs giving diners access to special deals and third-party delivery services charging additional, unwanted fees, consumers prefer to go directly to the source for takeout orders.

The Index revealed 57 percent of consumers have canceled a delivery order after seeing the additional fees. It also found that consumers prefer to order directly from restaurants rather than using third-party services. Most prefer to order through the restaurant’s website or mobile app. The bottom-line continues to be trust – consumers have more confidence that the restaurant will fulfill their order correctly when they go directly to the source.

When consumers dine-in at restaurants, they want their ordering experience to be seamless and customizable. The addition of self-service kiosks and order-at-the-table QR codes have improved the restaurant experience for customers and staff. Not only do these innovations allow team members to focus on more value-added services for the customer, but consumers are able to explore the menu at their own pace and customize their orders as they wish.

The Index found 53 percent have chosen to use a self-service kiosk in the past six months. The top reasons? Thirty-one percent said they get faster overall service, 25 percent cited shorter lines and 23 percent liked exploring the menu at their own pace. These smart kiosks, found increasingly in QSR and fast casual restaurants, also enhance order accuracy, reduce labor costs and provide brands with valuable data on diner preferences and ordering patterns.

The Future of Restaurants 

Looking forward, consumers want to see futuristic tech including personalized digital menus, full-meal vending machines and robot delivery services. Although some of these innovations aren’t completely baked out, similar technologies exist.

For example, Starbucks is looking to take it’s data-informed personalization to its physical stores with digital menu boards. The coffee behemoth’s customized menus are currently built into its mobile loyalty app, showing consumers items they order frequently and suggesting comparable ones the brand thinks individuals would enjoy. 

Other industry leaders, such as CKE Restaurants, parent organization of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, have also mentioned plans to integrate AI and machine learning technology into stores to create futuristic, digital experiences for diners.

Consumer preferences will always change. Restaurants must adapt and change with them, keeping convenience and loyalty top of mind. Restaurant-specific technology can ensure this is not just a wish, but a reality.