Personalization Is an Expectation

There's an opportunity for restaurant operators to uplevel personalization in the ordering process, according to according to Tillster’s 2024 Phygital Index Report.

More than half (58 percent) of diners are likely to recommend a QSR based on a positive personalized ordering experience, while 33 percent have even decided not to order from a QSR because the ordering experience was not personalized to their preferences — up from 21 percent who said so in 2023. 

The second annual survey of more than 1,000 U.S.-based quick-service and fast-casual diners uncovers what consumers are seeking from their dining experiences when it comes to digital ordering, self-service kiosks, delivery, pickup, coupons, loyalty programs, and more.

Diners continue to set a high bar for expectations when it comes to consistency across the digital and physical experience. Eighty-nine percent say inconsistent experiences across locations of the same QSR chain bothers them, and these inconsistent experiences make 57 percent of diners less likely to go back. Nearly half of QSR customers have experienced digital tools not working together the way they should be which leaves the vast majority of them (93 percent) frustrated. This creates an opportunity for restaurant brands to close the gap and benefit from improved consistency in the experience provided across physical and digital engagements with customers which can ultimately drive higher frequency, deeper loyalty and larger check size, according to the report. 

Additional survey highlights include:

  • Self-service kiosk adoption is growing, helping operators navigate labor and cost challenges. 57 percent of those who use kiosks wish restaurants had more self-service kiosks available, compared to 36 percent of diners who said the same last year. Kiosks are gaining traction for the convenience they offer customers and for the way they can help offset labor costs for operators. 
  • The third-party bubble burst. Diners have favored third-party platforms for the variety of choices, but the advantage is waning. Today, 17 percent of diners expect to reduce their use of third-party websites/apps in favor of restaurant-specific websites/apps in the coming year. There’s an opportunity to shift focus to mobile apps and websites, where 47 percent of diners are eager to see more exclusive offers and discounts. With the shift, operators gain the opportunity to engage and retain customers in new ways with first party data and direct connections. 
  • Pickup picks up, but parking is a problem. 89 percent of diners who have used curbside pickup say they would be more likely to visit a QSR that offers curbside pickup in the coming year (up from 69 percent last year). While diners demand more curbside, logistical challenges are a pain point. Over half of customers (55 percent) who ordered pickup in the last three months have had issues with parking when collecting their order, presenting a clear focus area for operators.

To learn more, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine reached out to Hope Neiman, CMO of Tillster 

What surprised you about the results? 

There were a wide number of surprises for me this year. Here are my top three:

Consumers now see themselves in the driver’s seat. For the past several years consumers were just grateful to have digital tools because it made their lives easier. Today, it is apparent that they have high expectations for these digital tools and how those tools help, or hinder a dining experience. Diners know that they can walk down the street and find a different restaurant that fills their needs elsewhere if a brand isn’t delivering for them. 

The desire for and growth of pick up. This of course has been an area that we have seen expanding, but the expectation of greater usage—especially around curbside—was bigger than we expected. I was also surprised to see the disappointment in the way some brands are delivering on the curbside “promise” is growing as well. 

Kiosks—across the board. We have of course seen the expansion of kiosks first hand, but it was surprising just how much the interest, usage and desire for kiosks is exploding. Last year we started to see two classes of guests—beeliners and explorers— beeliners have one objective: to streamline their ordering process, where explorers, on the other hand, enjoy browsing the menu, discovering new items, look for nutritional and allergen information and generally take their time making selections. While there is relatively a 50-50 split between them, we see explorers expanding faster. 

With the trend of diners migrating from third-party to restaurant-specific sites, what can restaurants do now to prepare to improve their websites and loyalty programs? What factors are fueling that migration?

I think the two biggest areas fueling this transition are costs – guests are aware of fees as well as higher prices— and accountability – diners have very limited recourse if the restaurant is not in charge of the order and a third-party partner makes a mistake. 

Not only do guests want to feel acknowledged, they also want offers that are relevant and to be made to feel special.

For restaurants preparing to improve their websites and loyalty programs, it is all about personalization.  Not only do guests want to feel acknowledged, they also want offers that are relevant and to be made to feel special. That means enabling all platforms to communicate in a two-way basis with the help of elements like a customer data platform. 

With parking causing friction, are there things restaurants can do to meet their guests' needs? Is there some way to use technology to problem solve? 

Absolutely. One thing brands can be doing to help reduce friction during curbside pickups is to incorporate geofencing capabilities. With geofencing, a brand can message a guest upon arrival with clear directions on where to park or go to pick up their order. Even having a button to “auto-connect” can diminish the friction.

How can restaurants use phygital tools to engage with their customers and be more efficient? 

I could spend hours talking about that! 😊 It is about being thoughtful as to how to introduce digital tools to help you in the restaurant. Take ordering for example. If someone is dining in at a QSR or fast casual restaurant and ordered on an app, or if they checked in on their loyalty status, phygital tools make it possible for brands to both recognize those touch points and prompt a guest to come back in for dessert or another drink. It is a win in revenue, and adds a bit of hospitality for the guest. 

Do you think the average consumer is familiar with the term phygital? And do you see that changing over the next year? 

I do not think they know the word, but I absolutely believe they know the concept. They are asking for experiences that reflect that. We are seeing it appear in more mainstream media, though generally in a more business focused context. 

What are some examples of ways restaurants can use technology to personalize the guest experience?

First and foremost, restaurants need to remove friction. For example, when a customer opens their app to place an order, it should be auto localized to the last store visited or localized to the store that guest is in without asking for it. 

Restaurants need to remove friction.

Another way to personalize a guest experience with technology is with a bring to table offering, which gives the guest the opportunity to sit down earlier in their experience and have more time to relax while their order is prepared and delivered. 

Lastly, never underestimate the power of special offers or unexpected wins for your guests. When you reward them based on their personal preferences, they’re more likely to keep coming back.