Some things never change.
People love to eat out and return when the experience is special. In fact, they love it so much that overall restaurant industry sales are projected to reach a record high of $863 billion in 2019. But as much as things stay the same, there’s just as much that’s changing — and disrupting — the restaurant industry as we’ve always known it.
So, where are we headed? What’s on our collective horizon for the future of dining? Here’s a look at the top predictions for the coming decade.
Customer-led Ordering and Payment
Outside of fine dining establishments (which constitute only a small percentage of restaurant businesses), customers no longer want to be dependent on a host to seat them or a server to take their order or process their payment.
Instead, restaurant guests increasingly want to take matters — quite literally — into their own hands. They want a flexible, fast, customized, and “frictionless” dining experience — one without the “drag” of unnecessary steps or interactions.
Smartphone-enabled ordering and payment solutions are making this a reality, allowing restaurant guests far greater control over the customer experience, increasing data security (since guests’ credit cards need never leave the table), and reducing restaurants’ labor costs in the process.
Complete Customer Journey Mapping
For the purposes of this conversation, customer journey mapping is a fancy way of talking about the capacity to monitor and track all the different points of contact a customer experiences with a restaurant brand. These points of contact are increasingly digital, and with the rise of mobile-based ordering and payment solutions (and the data-capture they make possible), even non-digital interactions (like eating a burger or pizza) come with a digital footprint.
This digital footprint is incredibly valuable, because it provides a wealth of information into every aspect of the customer journey: how restaurant guests have heard about your brand (Google search, social media ad, etc.), what menu items they most prefer, when they like to order (day of the week, time of day), how frequently they order, how much they typically spend, how long they remain at the table before paying, and even what they’re ordering from your competitors.
Most importantly, data-driven customer journey mapping gives restaurant brands something that John Wannamaker would have given his eye-teeth for: the ability to use machine learning to auto-generate accurate target market segmentation and conduct A/B testing based on actual customer data. This means that restaurants and the marketing professionals who serve them have the ability to identify the true impact of their marketing efforts and to craft campaigns that will reliably generate sales lift.
Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, low cal, low carb, high protein, organic, free-range, fair-trade, locally-grown, or what have you, consumers’ dietary preferences are spurring what will be an explosion in lifestyle technologies.
Like consumer-led ordering and payment solutions, lifestyle technologies allow consumers to use their smartphones to quickly identify dining options that cater to their lifestyle. Looking for a low-carb, high-protein dish without trans-fats that is locally sourced? Voila! An auto-populated list of all restaurants within an X-mile radius with menu items (complete with a full list of ingredients) fitting the bill.
Lifestyle technologies allow consumers to “pull” this information to themselves, but they also allows restaurant brands to “push” recommendations or special offers to consumers.
What’s more, these technologies “learn” as they go, which means they’re able to provide increasingly customized recommendations to users. As for restaurants, lifestyle technologies play a huge part in enabling them to identify trends, optimize their menus, elevate their guest experience, and (as discussed earlier) more precisely target their audience.
Currently, binary experience dictates where consumers dine. Said differently, consumers are faced with an either/or proposition. Want a lightning-fast grab-and-go experience? Well, that puts fast-casual out of the running. Looking for a keto-friendly menu item? You can probably cross your favorite Italian restaurant off the list. Feeling like you’d really like table service but want to work from your laptop while you eat? Too bad for you, that precludes casual-plus.
Consumers simply can’t have it both ways. Or can they?
The most innovative minds in the industry believe they can, and are actively engineering the obsolescence of the binary model and the emergence of the omni-channel experience.
In other words, say goodbye to either/or and hello to the new world of both/and where you can, as they say, have your cake and eat it too. (Or in this case, opt for a QSR experience, fast-casual, and casual-plus — all under the same roof.)
Though it will take time for this new model to catch on (after all, people were still using horses and buggies decades after the introduction of the Model T), the omnichannel experience is destined to become the new normal. Even now, major restaurant brands are piloting omni-channel experiences to wildly favorable reviews, delivering value in ways that no one would have dreamed of even a decade ago.
Solving for Social Scenarios
The coming decade promises an extravaganza of innovation in restaurant trends and the thought leadership and technology that drives it. But at the end of the day, it’s less about trends and technology and more about people.
Whether they know it or not, restaurants are in the “people business,” and that means creating solutions to what are essentially social scenarios: How do we create better experiences? How do we bring people together in meaningful ways? How do we generate feedback loops that generate value, tangible and intangible?
As long as people love to eat out, and return when the experience is special, these are the kinds of questions that restaurant brands will be in the business of answering.
Some things never change.