Along with yummy dishes, restaurants are also putting new tech investments on the menu as they re-engineer for post-pandemic business. Drive-thru dining, third-party delivery and other off-premise approaches to feeding America all look to heat up while COVID-19 cools down.
“Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) across the United States are scrambling to accommodate off-premise sales as city and state governments close dine-in restaurants to slow the new coronavirus’s spread. Restaurants are staying afloat by reacting quickly,” the report states, “improving their drive-thru operations and accommodating mobile ordering, delivery and takeout — even if they were not doing so before the pandemic.”
From cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) digital menu solutions to application programming interfaces (API), restaurants are using tech to boost efficiencies and delight customers in novel ways as the industry essentially rebuilds after the COVID-19 economic reset.
The New Landscape
Time and technology investment as a theme runs throughout the April Order To Eat Tracker® with major chains and innovative partners analyzing the last few months of data and deciding the future of what we once simply called “fast food” in America.
What will likely emerge is a multi-tiered stratum of purveyors, each with a slightly different take on takeout. It is already evident that thousands of smaller operators will convert to a delivery-only model, “… possibly with third-party aggregators as the delivery mechanism, which will result in an increase in kitchens located in lower-rent commercial locations and places not designed for foot traffic. The resulting concepts are likely to have different hours and fewer employees,” Paytronix Co-Founder and President Andrew Robbins told PYMNTS.
“The second group will have the variety of traditional fast casual and QSRs, but operate more like the pizza delivery market, balancing dine-in with delivery in a near 50/50 split,” Robbins said. “They’ll likely have smaller retail footprints than the current models.”
As to the third group to appear post-COVID, which Robbins believes will be the largest of the three, that “… will be a hybrid that may have a single kitchen and retail space, but with several brands operating out of a single location serving different delivery-only markets. A variation [could be] a central commissary that offers delivery, but also handles production for a number of smaller distribution outlets,” he said.
Along with sad losses like the closing of McDonald’s play areas, bright spots in the coming COVID-19 recovery are starting to pop up. For one thing, the drive-thru QSR experience is promising to not just improve but become delightful as the food market recovers.
“Drive-thru ordering is poised for a digital transformation, with numerous innovations emerging to promote faster ordering and more efficient kitchens,” the report states. “About 70 percent of QSR managers see these as the primary benefits of implementing new technologies, according to PYMNTS’ Restaurant Readiness Index, and most believe tools that support convenient order pickup and accuracy will bolster restaurants’ successes.”
As conversational artificial intelligence (AI) gets chattier and loyalty programs are integrated in interesting ways, getting drive-thru may take on the aspects of a brief amusement park ride. Expect more digital innovation along such lines as we pick up the pieces post-coronavirus pandemic.
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