Providing inspiration for retail experiences across categories, these six food service trends showcase how to use data analytics, digital infrastructure and automation to deliver the tailored and in-step service consumers expect

Diner demand for personalized, flexible and intuitive experiences is on the rise, with 70% of worldwide QSR executives reporting an increase in customer expectations. As a result, leaders within the food services industry are adopting new technologies and mobile-first capabilities to seamlessly connect back-of-house services with consumer-facing interactions. When paired with powerful data analytics and automation, this approach allows information and insights to flow freely across the business, enhancing the customer experience and driving new efficiencies, from ordering and inventory management through to delivery.

So what steps to take toward building operating ecosystems that enable the hyper-personalized, often multi-channel journeys that have become the norm? The following six trends within the food service sector identified by PSFK researchers provide insight for businesses across categories looking to establish intelligent operations and provide next-level customer experiences.

360-Degree Guest Insights — An impressive 78% of consumers are more likely to shop where they will have a personalized experience. To meet customers’ ever-increasing expectations around made-for-me journeys at scale, businesses are taking a 360-degree approach to guest insights by incorporating intelligent CRM solutions. By providing employees unified access to these insights, businesses are able to deliver tailored experiences across all points of contact. OneDine is a SaaS-powered platform available for POS integration helping restauranteurs offer this kind of personalized service, letting customers create profiles, set preferences, order food and even pay—all from their own table, on their own phone. 

Frictionless Self-Service — To better meet customers where they are, whether in person or digitally, and provide them with a greater level of control over how they can order and check out, businesses are improving their self-service offerings, ensuring that the entire process is convenient and consistent across all touchpoints. The self-service kiosk market alone is projected to reach nearly $31 billion by 2024, which is perhaps why restaurants like IHOP are cashing in—the breakfast chain has plans to launch a fast-casual concept called Flip'd, which replaces traditional table service with kiosks and walk-up counters for on-site ordering, in addition to order-ahead pickup and delivery. A self-serve bar enables further customization of food items whether dining in or carrying out.  

Contactless Ordering  By integrating biometric technology, scannable QR codes and contactless solutions within in-store kiosks and payment terminals, businesses are reimagining both the browsing and payment stages. By digitizing the dine-in experience, restaurants are able to help customers better control their visit, while also providing greater personalization based on preferences and customer buying trends. Well-known Jean-Georges Restaurants have incorporated contactless capabilities, leveraging mobile phone-activated QR tech that let diners navigate digital menus to reduce exchanges between staff and customers.

Mobile-Optimized Convenience — Leaning into a mobile-first retail world, companies are designing physical locations to be streamlined for customers who order ahead, enabling people to truly grab and go. Reducing friction and increasing convenience for customers and 3rd-party delivery services, urban storefronts are increasingly rolling out mobile features, from creating designated pick-up areas to incorporating in-store digital order boards. Take Starbucks' pickup-only outpost (located at NYC's Penn Plaza), which is designed for mobile app users to quickly retrieve their order-ahead items. Digital signage displays information on completed orders, making it easy for customers to locate their food and drinks in the midst of their busy days. 

In-Step Commerce — Moving beyond traditional paths to purchase within the food and restaurant industry, businesses and solutions providers are increasingly collaborating to create dynamic points of sale that seamlessly flow within customers’ daily lives, from voice-enabled devices to in-vehicle commerce and live-streams. Domino's, for one, partnered with vehicle software business Xevo Market on an app function that lets customers place their pizza orders via their car's infotainment system, making takeout an even more convenient option.

Socially Enabled Loyalty — Restructuring the loyalty program to better suit customers’ needs, companies are offering flexibility in both how rewards are earned—think social media promotions—as well as how rewards are redeemed, from sharing perks with friends to direct deposits to users’ mobile payment accounts. CBD beverage brand Recess did so by sending $3 to the Venmo accounts of people who mentioned the brand on Instagram.

This was just a selection of trends that PSFK Researchers identified in a recent paper outlining the ways that top food service providers are creating operational ecosystems for scaling personalization and flexibility—for the full list, check out details on the research paper here.