The business lessons learned during pandemic are still evolving as restaurant executives look forward to the end of this tumultuous year. As they continue to assess their operations in light of an uncertain future, there are some noteworthy trends to follow. In reacting to COVID-19 the critical role and importance of technology saw a rapid acceleration. Indeed, what the restaurant industry thought was on the horizon for 2025 will be implemented in 2021.
There are five main areas of increased technology acceleration in the restaurant business:
Greater Focus on Frictionless Consumer Experience
Customers will seek restaurant experiences that offer the least human interaction. During the pandemic, restaurants that quickly pivoted to takeout and delivery were able operate more profitably than those who were slow to change. Next year will bring new competitors to restaurants such as fresh food vending and more fresh grocery meal options available for delivery. It’s not too late to offer touchless options because on-premises guest traffic will continue to ebb and flow. For restaurants with robust delivery platforms, it’s not too early to consider delivery by autonomous vehicles which are set to take-to-the-roads next year.
Increase Need for Transparency
Disrupted supply chains will continue to plague the food business in 2021, and end-to-end supply chain visibility will be essential to meet challenges created by shortages. Look for opportunities to step up and again serve customers’ needs by supplying hard-to-get grocery items. Next year, restaurants will be tasked to do more within their own supply chains. The ability to consistently provide a complete menu will depend on accurate data for availability and delivery of ingredients.
New Ways to Leverage Automation
Restaurants will continue to be required to do more tasks with less labor. It will become a matter of survival to automate internal processes that were historically done manually like food prep calculations and inventory control. The demands on employees in consumer-facing roles will increase, so automating manual tasks will allow restaurants to allocate manpower to support pick-up and delivery platforms.
There is also the urgent matter of safety. COVID has tasked restaurant operators to monitor a whole new level of safety because they inherently offer a brand promise that: “if we serve it, it is safe.” Automating and generating data protects the customer and the brand in a centralized, easily accessible manner. Technology currently exists to easily automate checklists and processes from expiry management, inventory control and temperature tracking to adherence to employee handwashing protocols and sanitizing premises.
Rise in Predictive Decision Making
Expect advances in supply chain AI that drive safer, more productive restaurant operations to be another big part of the conversation in 2021.
Agility in Adopting Technology
Agility will be the focus of technology in 2021. Restaurants are learning that they can succeed by being agile during unpredictable times. Current technology allows them to start small with proof of concept and then ramp up to meet both needs and budgets. Scalable technology allows businesses to “stick a toe in the technology water” before “jumping in with both feet” and making a major commitment.
Restaurant executives are looking forward to seeing 2020 in the rear-view mirror. The road ahead may be bumpy but embracing technology will drive restaurants to success in 2021.