The quick service restaurant industry must adapt to these trends or get left behind.
There’s no denying the impact technology is having on day-to-day life. One area it’s having a major impact is the way we dine.
Where we continue to see a massive change is in the way restaurants are laid out. Not simply casual dining—think restaurant chains like Olive Garden—but rather dining at what we call Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs).
The QSR industry is undergoing the biggest period of transition. As the smaller fast casual concepts continue to streamline and offer prices that are more competitive, quick service restaurants need to identify strategies to better stand out.
The Evolution of Customer Service
The workers in the quick service restaurant industry will be the first to witness the biggest shifts and must be ready to adapt.
Technology is set to play a huge role in the future of the industry, potentially minimizing the need for human interaction, servers, and cashiers altogether.
Since 2010, mobile order and payment platforms and apps have been gaining traction.
Panera, for example, has illustrated that fast casual restaurants can successfully implement drive-thru restaurants, and more fast-casual chains are taking notice. Look for more and more fast casual, healthy fast food-focused chains to test out the drive thru.
Right now, other companies are busy playing catch up. Companies are investing tens of millions of dollars to offer mobile on-the-go service to their customers. The most important elements of these services? Speed and convenience.
But millennial consumers want to know how workers are treated. Just as McDonald’s made the switch to cage-free eggs to make an animal rights statement to consumers, restaurant employees will be up next.
Not only will tech touch aspects of how we order, pick-up, and use delivery, but curbside pick-up is expected to “explode” this year.
Baum + Whiteman President Michael Whiteman told QSR Magazine that as dozens of food delivery specialists take shape in an app- and tech-driven world, the delivery revolution will “Uberize” the limited-service industry.
However, there is a huge opportunity for growth in other aspects of the industry—most notably a shift in customer service.
Introduction of Exclusively Mobile Order Locations
This spring, Starbucks did something that experts had been anticipating.
The coffee giant opened its first mobile order-only location at its Seattle headquarters. The company calls it a test, but many believe this is something that can take off.
In April, Starbucks turned one of its two internal cafes into a dedicated mobile order and pay location. Reuters reported that all mobile orders from building employees—including 5,000 people—were routed to the new location. The mobile order-only featured a different design, too, featuring a prominent pick-up window offering views of busy baristas making food and drink orders.
The creation of this type of quick service restaurant enhances the experience for those on the go, again making speed and convenience more important than anything else.
Customers leave feeling completely satisfied. While the role of a person taking an order has been eliminated, an opportunity has been created. Here brands have the chance to build relationships with their customers. They can re-invent the role of their employees. Instead of taking orders, their time can be spent welcoming customers, and helping to make their experience as streamlined as possible.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Since ordering and payment now takes place ahead of time, the biggest question after pick-up becomes should customers stay or go?
If customers decide to stay, there is an opportunity for the quick service restaurant to provide an improved level of service.
Should customers opt to leave, the most important thing about their experience is accuracy, speed, and convenience.
The restaurant experience of the future can be likened to a trip to the bank: customers will have the option to visit a teller, or go directly to the ATM. Those looking for a human experience can stay and interact, while those looking for nothing more can simply go.
This means QSR industry workers must be ready to adapt to what the customer is looking. Providing an efficient experience, and enhanced customer service, if that’s what the customer is after. Again, the control is left in the palm of the customer’s hand.
What the Quick Service Restaurant Workforce Can Expect Next
The final piece of the puzzle is how these advancements will affect the nature of QSR workforce.
While there’s no doubt that the food service industry is becoming more automated, technology is ever-changing. Tech can only keep revolutionizing the way restaurants are laid out and how customers experience and interact with brands.
The biggest change? Technology will eliminate the need to line up for a cashier to take your order. In many restaurants, the number of seats will be reduced.
When customers arrive, they will be greeted by hosts at the entrance—similar to a casual dining experience such as The Cheesecake Factory or Texas Road House. In turn, the layout must evolve and the structure must allow customers to easily pick up their orders.
Once customers are past the entrance, there will be a series of pick-up windows—or wickets—where customers can collect their orders.
The most important element—convenience—means customers’ orders will be ready for pick-up by the time they arrive. Most notably, the level of human interaction will be decided upon by the customer. Customers will have the option to grab-and-go or interact with restaurant staff.
For workers in the QSR industry, there’s no denying their roles will keep evolving. However, the streamlining of the industry does not necessarily mean lost jobs.
What it does mean is that those jobs will become more customer service-oriented.
Less time will be spent taking orders—that will be done ahead of time—and instead, the purpose of the employees will focus more on warmly welcoming diners. If they choose to stay, workers will ensure their experiences are as service-oriented as possible.
Yes, technology is rapidly changing QSRs function, but this is just the beginning.
Jason Strashek has gone from working across initial trials of mobile ordering for major brands such as McDonalds, Starbucks and Panera Bread to creating his own company, Avanti Commerce.
Avanti Commerce is the company behind Subway Restaurants’ highly successful entry into global mobile ordering. After selling the majority of the company to Subway, and faced with the opportunity to retire early, Jason relaunched Avanti; tailoring the platform, taking the most powerful parts and adapting it for use amongst restaurants of any size.