In this time of economic uncertainty and change, with consumer habits shifting as rapidly as ever, the food service industry finds itself in the midst of a “restaurant experience reset.” Entering a new era laser-focused on customer experience, brands have been presented an opportunity to reflect upon the changes made over the past few years and reassess which restaurant models and approaches will keep hold and which will lose relevance.
Below, we examine a list of in-store/onsite and digital customer experiences and assess which are here to stay and which will fade away.
In-store and onsite experiences
TREND: Smaller dining footprints
VERDICT: Here to stay
Small dining footprints have been the talk of the town - predominantly in quick service restaurants (QSR), where business has mostly shifted to drive-thru, takeout, and/or delivery. As the majority of consumers continue to prioritize convenience - including seamless engagements over dine-in experiences - expect more new build outs and remodels on the horizon. This model also gives QSR brands an opportunity to streamline for grab-and-go and third party delivery.
TREND: Scannable technology
VERDICT: Here to stay - kind of
Scannable technology (e.g., QR codes) has experienced a renaissance of late, opening the door for restaurants to leverage it as an opportunity to build stronger brand loyalty “beyond the meal.” A well-designed digital or tactile menu is a key part of the brand experience, enabling customers to “eat with their eyes.” While the QR version of these menus should fade away, the presence of scannable technology will continue, as it further enables customers seamless access to loyalty programs, locations, extended content, and social channels aimed at forging deeper connections between themselves and the brand.
TREND: “Mega” drive-thrus
VERDICT: Will fade away
In recent years, many brands scrambled to install drive-thru systems, though some of the biggest QSR names perhaps leaned too far toward concepting ambitious features (e.g., double-decker drive-thrus). These kinds of trends appear destined to fade away, or at least be more expressly confined to experience stores or test concepts. However, mobile-only lanes or AI-assisted ordering is here to stay. Ultimately, drive-thrus remain an effective gateway to a convenient QSR experience, just don’t expect brands to over-invest in unnecessary tech and real estate.
TREND: App usage
VERDICT: Here to stay
App usage has been a trend firmly on the rise over the past few years, as consumers are relying on apps more than ever - including to engage with brands. And while even your grandparents know that apps are here to stay, expect to see them level up by offering more intuitive correspondence based on customer habits, storytelling to help foster stronger engagement, or challenges that unlock rewards and “gamify” customer experience. One can also expect apps to eventually replace all offers - be that coupons or mass market promotions - as more deals will be tailored to the individual opposed to one for all.
TREND: Personalized data
VERDICT: Here to stay, but with obstacles
The death of third-party cookies has accelerated the use of first-party data to personalize customer experience. Brands know more about their consumers than ever before, but despite being data-rich, they are often insight-poor, making telling a cohesive, meaningful story with the data tricky. With a performance marketing mindset, telling a story with clear KPIs (analytics) and key customer data points (CDP) represents an opportunity for brands to create seamless experiences and serve up personalized information to their customers - but only if they have the right insights.
TREND: Delivery, especially third-party operator (3PO) delivery
VERDICT: Here to stay
3PO delivery companies have seen a massive rise in adoption followed by a leveling of usage focused in more urban/densely populated areas. Though this trend is here to stay, there is room for further adaptation on the 3PO side, both in terms of leveling up customer service, as well as their fee structure to restaurant brands.
The combination of morphing consumer habits and growing economic pressures has prompted many restaurants to change their approach in order to be better equipped to meet the moment. But, with the passage of time, it has become increasingly clear which trends are the stickiest entering a new age focused on delivering enhanced experiences for the modern consumer.
Want deeper insights on the future of customer experience in restaurants? Join us and our esteemed panel of industry experts who will be tackling this very topic during our next webinar. To learn more about how MERGE is helping keep restaurants ahead of the curve, visit us here.