QSR and Fast Casual Restaurants’ Enter a New Digital Age

An entire ecosystem of POS systems, aggregators, restaurant engagement platforms, and more exist to offer advanced features to meet guests’ digital needs.
Kamryn Elliott

Consumers want convenience. They want seamless, on-demand service, and thanks to COVID-19, they’re getting just that. Before the pandemic, restaurants had limited food delivery and fell behind on the digital trends of online ordering and restaurant apps. Now, an entire ecosystem of POS systems, aggregators, restaurant engagement platforms, and more exist to offer advanced features to meet guests’ digital needs.

Consumer habits have changed to accept omnichannel shopping and it doesn’t look like they’ll revert to pre-pandemic behaviors. Seventy-five percent of US consumers say they’re researching and purchasing both in-store and online. Between delivery, curbside pickup, in-store takeout, restaurant app orders, and online ordering, restaurant guests now rely on their digital options as much as on brick-and-mortar locations.

Consumers Expect and Want More Digital Solutions for Ordering

According to a Bluedot survey on what consumers felt was the most improved aspect of the fast-food experience since COVID, 58% picked mobile app ordering. The following categories ranked were curbside pickup (44%), web ordering (29%), drive-thru (25%), and offers (21%). To top it off, 37% of guests are placing more mobile orders on restaurant apps than they were three months ago.

Bluedot Graph

Convenience matters with guests. That’s why ease of use and speed rank #1 for why guests keep restaurant apps. However, restaurant apps should offer a dynamic menu not available in-store because the study found that the #1 reason guests delete restaurant apps is due to limited menu options.

Restaurants need to meet guests' convenience demands while offering more digital solutions such as loyalty, cross-channel balance to improve speed and ease of use (in-store and mobile ordering), dynamic menus, and more.

Guests favor convenience so much that 75% are not concerned with privacy and are willing to share their mobile location to receive their meals fresh upon arrival, receive coupons whenever near a restaurant, and not miss out on a brand’s latest offering

Consumer demand for convenience stands out as a key theme moving forward. Restaurant brands should invest in both in-store and off-premise digital strategies to improve speed and ease of use and to increase customer loyalty. One of the ways to increase convenience is by listening to their expectations and adjusting models to meet those needs.

Fast-Food Store Design Reimagined by COVID-19

Guests want to see more innovation in restaurant ordering and the restaurant experience. In the Bluedot survey, 56% of consumers listed “dedicated drive-thru for mobile pickup” as the top innovation followed by “food kept warm at pickup” (42%), with “automatically checked-in at curbside pick up” and “ability to text in order” both at (27%).

Consumer feedback on what they want to see for the future of QSR and fast-casual restaurants is being taken seriously. Many brands across the U.S. like KFC, McDonald's, Chick’nCone, and Chipotle are all drastically downsizing their brick-and-mortar locations. For instance, a Chick’nCone location covered 1,200 square feet and featured about two dozen seats and an exhibition kitchen known as the waffle theatre. Now they operate under a new 8 feet by 20 feet recycled shipping container prototype entirely devoted to off-premises traffic with a walk-up window and drive-thru lane.

In TD’s 2021 Restaurant Franchise Pulse Survey, 55% of restaurant operators said they planned to add more space for pickup orders, while 45% were plotting additional drive-thru locations, and another 43% were looking to add outdoor dining space.

Vibrant exteriors, more drive-thru lanes, less dining room space, and more are becoming popular as consumer demand for innovation and digital ordering solutions grow. After all, 57% of guests use restaurant apps over third-party apps.

Guests turn to restaurant apps to bypass long lines in-store while also gaining the convenience of fast and easy orders (52%), earning and tracking loyalty points (49%), receiving exclusive deals or coupons (48%), and ease of payment (42%). Make sure your brand enters the new restaurant digital experience by adopting digital ordering solutions and reimagining in-store dining.