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How Digital Ordering is Changing the Restaurant Industry

online ordering

It’s no surprise that the pandemic triggered an accelerated digital transformation, but how has this change affected consumers' preferences in the restaurant industry? The demand for digital and quick service has increased rapidly. Restaurants have noticed a significant shift in the way their guests want to order and receive food. The taste of digital ordering has made consumers hungry for more. Although the world is slowly returning to normal, guests aren’t ready to give up the convenience digital ordering offered them. The demand for digital service is changing the face of the restaurant industry.

The Rise of Digital Demand

At the peak of the pandemic, restaurants were working hard to incorporate digital options for their guests that allowed service to continue. About 72% of restaurant operators invested in delivery and online ordering systems to boost their revenue during the mandated stay-at-home order. This accelerated digital transformation made a good impression on the world and is being pushed to new limits every day. Advanced digital software helped restaurants serve their guests safely and efficiently, however, it may also be what’s pushing some restaurants over the edge. As the demand continues to grow, restaurants’ operational capabilities are being pushed to their limits as labor shortages continue to persist. 

This change has taken quick-service restaurant (QSR) expectations to a new level. There has been a significant change in consumer preferences. About 37% of guests identify drive-thurs as their preferred method of ordering. As a result, in-house dining has become less popular and the demand for drive-thrus has skyrocketed. A driving factor in this shift is the health concerns caused by the global pandemic. A survey found that 30% of Americans still do not feel comfortable dining indoors. Another factor is the unmatchable speed and convenience that drive-thrus offer. 

Another option for restaurant diners that offers them the quick and easy experience that they’re looking for is digital ordering. More than half of consumers prefer to use a digital app to order restaurant food for out-of-house dining. Even more so, when dining in about 64% of guests would rather order their food digitally as opposed to speaking with waitstaff. Now, restaurants must rethink their strategies to keep up with the growing demands of their guests. 

How to Solve the Demand Problem

In the constantly evolving restaurant industry, the need for change is inevitable if you want to stay afloat. The massive increase in digital demands, combined with the decline in in-person dining, has impacted many restaurant strategies. To combat the change in consumer preferences, many restaurants are now integrating new technology and renovations into their establishments. These major changes have even caused restaurant owners to rethink how they design their kitchens and service stations. 

After reflecting on the needs of their guests, many QSRs are planning on making these key changes. The lack of demand for in-person dining allows restaurants to cut back on their interior real estate and start implementing more outdoor capabilities. This includes adding drive-thrus, walk-up ordering windows, expanded outdoor seating, and more. A recent survey found that 45% of restaurant operators are planning on building more drive-thrus to better keep up with the influx of order-ahead and to-go orders. Along with this, about 43% of restaurant operators also said they are looking into building more outdoor seating to welcome guests who want to eat out but may still be concerned about indoor safety hazards. 

In addition to creating more space for guests to order outdoors, restaurants are also experimenting with advanced technology to optimize their guests' experience. This looks like added kiosks and automated voice systems in drive-thrus. Four out of five consumers surveyed said they would rather order from a kiosk or automated voice system rather than speak to an employee. These new features are the perfect mixture of convenience offered in the drive-thru and the speed of online ordering as well. This new method is a sure way to fulfill your guests' needs!

While these new outdoor features are useful, restaurants will also need to upgrade their in-house operations to match the demand. This could look like modernizing kitchen equipment, setting up in-house kiosks, or even deciding to switch the whole operation of the restaurant. As of June 2022, around 41% of independent restaurants currently operate as a ghost kitchen to accommodate consumers' online orders. Out of those restaurants, 46% reported that their virtual kitchens are permanent additions and they also plan on opening more! 

If the swap to a ghost kitchen is too much of a change, restaurants can also meet the demand by upgrading their take-out operations. About 55% of restaurant operators said they planned to add more space for pickup orders in their restaurant. This will not only help out your guests but also give your employees a more efficient work environment. That's a whole lot of benefit for a few small changes! 

The future of technology in the restaurant industry is still evolving and will continue to evolve day after day. The only way to keep up with the demand is to be flexible and adapt to the changes. Restaurants are doing everything they can to provide convenience and ensure a smiling face on every guest, whether they walk through the door or use digital ordering options!


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