The COVID-19 pandemic upended the business and service realities of the restaurant industry in a historically unprecedented way. Regulations limiting the dine-in experience forced a rapid adoption of contactless, mobile-first, and automated digital omnichannel experiences as the consumer dining journey underwent a decade’s worth of recalibration in just a single calendar year, blurring the lines between traditional business models and the onset of new ones.
Digitally driven sales and delivery enabled the survival of restaurants during the pandemic, and these new capabilities, powered by cutting edge technology like AI, robotics, and best-in-class customer intelligence platforms, as well as innovative fulfillment and last-mile delivery solutions, have reshaped the industry landscape and created new opportunities for restaurants to win loyalty and differentiate. Automated and contactless solutions offer consumers convenience and safety without human contact; while the ability to leverage data from vast troves of digital order histories has allowed restaurants to reshape and enhance the consumer experience by providing more customizable and tailored options.
The transition to a digital-first economy is providing restaurants with new opportunities to activate the consumer’s path to purchase. Fueled by the prevalence of at-home dining, an entirely new ecosystem of virtual restaurant brands with no brick-and-mortar footprint has arisen, powered by ghost kitchens and third-party delivery apps and promoted through a growing influencer marketplace. The digital-first practices of today’s consumer have also given rise to greater flexibility, transparency, and speed regarding restaurant’s end-to-end fulfillment practices, delivering on both safety as well as convenience through a combination of contactless, digitally-led mobile ordering and payment solutions, as well as geo-fenced pickup practices, innovative new store designs, and autonomous final handoff.
To differentiate while balancing the rapid adoption of technological innovations, restaurants are also prioritizing consumer interest in climate-friendly practices, plant-based options and locally sourced goods. As restaurants learn more about their consumers, consumers are also learning more about restaurants’ own business practices and policies, examining closely how they contribute to larger societal issues like climate change, and making dining decisions based on a wider variety of factors than just personal preference and short-term wants.
The digital-first practices of today’s consumer have given rise to greater flexibility, transparency and speed regarding fulfillment practices, from at home delivery to curbside pickup. To deliver against consumer expectations, and provide end-to-end convenience, online delivery platforms are expanding beyond just food-related orders, autonomous robots are completing final handoff, and geofencing tools are being incorporated into delivery platforms to provide ease of mind for both consumers and associates.Dining Subscription
While the core of any restaurant’s revenue is its daily food and beverage sales, the pandemic demonstrated how quickly this business can go away. In an effort to create additional income streams, while deepening their relationship with their top customers, many restaurants are implementing subscription and membership-based models that include insider access alongside lifestyle-related offerings like meal kits and merchandise.Ghost Franchise
Ghost kitchens have become a staple in the restaurant industry, reducing friction and wait times for customers in search of at-home delivery. As restrictions continue to limit social outings and visits to local favorites, ghost locations and partner restaurants or franchises are supporting entirely virtual restaurants to connect with customers and fulfill their online orders.
Fast casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill launches “Real Foodprint,” a first-of-its-kind sustainability impact tracker that provides the chain’s guests with detailed data about the environmental impact of an order’s ingredients.Restaurant Chains Pivot From Dine-In to Drive-Thru With New Concepts
Multinational restaurant chains Taco Bell and Burger King have introduced new, innovatively designed store concepts that focus on the mobile customer experience and offer freshly redesigned brick-and-mortar offerings like 3-and-4 lane drive-thrus and suspended kitchens.Wendy’s To Open 700 Ghost Kitchens By 2025 With Start-up REEF Technology