Customer expectations for service and experience have never been higher. Regardless of industry, consumers expect near perfection with every interaction, whether it’s a one-click pizza order or the ability to build a dream car online.
A July 2018 study by research consulting firm BRP revealed that less than half of restaurants meet customer expectations for things like easy ordering, interactive tools and technology, and delivery. If restaurant brands want to survive, they have to do better — by closing the gap between what they deliver and what their customers expect.
Because diners have more choices than ever before, quick-service restaurants (QSR) have never had so much competition for table share. To stay relevant, QSRs have to face an ever-changing landscape with a ferocious short-term drive and a dedicated long-term plan that focuses on meeting customer expectations in a technology-rich world.
Here are nine trends QSRs should must consider to win over customers in 2019.
Trend No. 1: Focus on Technology
As more and more people spend hours a day online, technology is becoming a must-have for casual and QSR restaurants.
“To stay relevant, these brands should enable conversational commerce platforms such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, chatbots, or Apple Home pods,” says Sukumar Muthya, SVP of marketing technology at Ansira. “They not only make it easy and enjoyable for customers to order online, but they also create brand loyalty that increases engagement.”
Some restaurants have implemented back-of-house technology to streamline mundane job tasks, freeing up employees to focus on enhancing the customer experience. For example, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit leverages an enterprise voice platform to provide employees with hands-free access to real-time data via voice commands. They can check on the status of orders, staffing schedules, and more. At Domino’s, managers use a voice-controlled app to streamline inventory tasks, which results in huge time savings.
Other technologies, such as robots and artificial intelligence (AI), can also help brands stand out in the market. Muthya recommends that QSR brands use state-of-the-art technology platforms that can be implemented at lightning speed using cloud infrastructure.
“This will create omnichannel experiences while collecting consumer data quickly and easily,” he says.
Trend No. 2: Easy Ordering and Payments
In the BRP study, 71% of consumers said ease of ordering and payment was important, yet only about 45% of restaurants deliver on this expectation. QSR restaurants must simplify their ordering and payment processes with technologies like ordering kiosks (important to 27% of consumers surveyed) or mobile order-ahead functionality (important to 34% of consumers).
Starbucks has set the gold standard. The brand empowers customers to order and pay for their favorite beverages on their mobile app, stroll up to the counter, and grab their items — without ever waiting in line. Fair or not, customers expect that same level of convenience and ease with other QSR brands.
Many brands leverage proprietary mobile apps to offer mobile pay. Some also reward customers with coupons or discounts when they download and use the app.
Trend No. 3: Fast, Fresh, and Authentic
Local and farm-to-table foods have grown in popularity, and consumers want authenticity. For example, in the pizza space, 49% of consumers say they want authentic offerings, while 44% say they choose restaurants that use high-quality or fresh toppings and ingredients.
Authentic foods used to command a premium price, but now they are expected. As a result, customers are no longer willing to pay extra to get what they see as a standard requirement.
QSR brands must evolve their menus to reflect fresh, authentic foods without compromising price or speed of delivery.
Trend No. 4: Food Delivery
Online grocery ordering, in-store pickup, and delivery have become the norm. Time-strapped customers appreciate the ease and convenience of having their groceries available with minimal effort on their part. Restaurants are also tapping into the need for convenience and immediacy by delivering prepared meals on demand.
To capture table share, all restaurant brands must follow the path of companies like global pizza leader Domino’s that deliver good food quickly — without compromising quality, freshness, or authenticity.
The food delivery business exploded in 2015 and 2016, but over the last two years, the industry’s growth has slowed, signaling widespread adoption. Because so many brands deliver, now the competitive differentiation is the actual experience. Is the food delivered on time? Is it fresh or hot? Does it present well once the container is opened?
As people search online for “food delivery by me,” QSR brands must be in the game in order to compete. Subway, KFC, Jack in the Box, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Taco Bell, and 7-11 are some of the brands competing with giants like Domino’s for lunch, dinner, or late-night snack deliveries.
Trend No. 5: Food Delivery Partnerships
Nearly every type of restaurant delivers food on demand through a provider like Grubhub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash. Restaurants are also partnering with grocery companies to integrate apps and point-of-sale (POS) systems to meet this customer demand.
Casual and QSR brands should consider partnering with delivery providers to meet customer expectations. Location and delivery radius must be considered to ensure a positive experience; after all, no one wants soggy fries. One example is Chick-fil-A, which partnered with DoorDash to deliver to customers located within 10 minutes of the restaurant.
Operationally, restaurants should identify ways to make the third-party delivery service more seamless by linking partners to back-of-house and POS systems.
Trend No. 6: Frictionless Payment
Amazon Go stores are revolutionizing the way we pay. These stores have no checkout, relying instead on camera sensors and the Amazon app. In the QSR space, Domino’s offers one-click ordering, making it fast and easy for customers to pay for their pizza.
QSRs need to consider the ways in which they can leverage technology to make payment easy and frictionless.
Trend No. 7: Voice Ordering
Domino’s, Dunkin, and others have partnered with Amazon to empower customers to place mobile orders via voice technology. Customers can select a specific delivery time, pick-up location, preferred order, and payment all through synced Amazon and brand-specific apps/accounts.
Trend No. 8: Promote Percentage of Savings
There’s currently a disconnect between what brands are communicating on social media platforms and what consumers want to hear. The top QSR brands are promoting price, but research reveals that consumers respond better to specific discount increments, from 10% to 50%. To remain relevant, QSR brands need to align their messaging to promote what customers want.
Trend No. 9: Talk About Evergreen Deals on Social
The top five QSR brands — Starbucks, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s — don’t use social media only to solve problems; they use it to promote evergreen deals. Brands that win meet customers where they are on their social media platforms to enhance the brand experience through customer service and promotion of meaningful offers.
Although not every trend applies to every restaurant, there’s value in each one individually as it relates to improving the customer experience. Technology is advancing customer expectations, from Wi-Fi availability to getting your fast food delivered hot and fresh to your front door. Customers will go where the experience is best, and they expect nothing less from their favorite QSR and casual dining brands.
Read about Ansira’s leadership in the QSR space.