As lockdowns end, where is tech taking the restaurant industry next?

KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Banjo’s and Roll’d discuss consumer expectations and how it’s shaping the discourse on digital.

The pandemic’s fast-tracking of the QSR and fast casual restaurant industry’s digital transformation has been a consistent theme when discussing how chains have navigated the tumultuous challenges that emerged.

Now, as states slowly exit from the lockdowns, the discourse on digital is shifting to how brands are using tech not only to stay relevant but also using it at a level to remain agile in the face of changing consumer expectations.

“We're almost becoming digital companies,” KFC SOPAC managing director Richard Wallis said. “You almost have to wire your structure in a way that would replicate how customers’ needs are changing.”

“We have to be omnipresent, I think, is the thing that we've learned - and that is consistent customer experience across all of your channels. But you've got to be in every channel; you can't pick and choose. Customers want the brand wherever they are, and you have to be, aggressively, on every touch point they're going after.”

McDonald’s, which has significantly invested in off-premise channels, believes customers are no longer accepting of tech that “is slightly clunky” and “slightly tedious.”

“Patience is very low these days,” senior director Cameron Newlands said. “Making [experiences] as simple as possible has been a really big focus.”

Another one, he said, is how technology “can actually help us make it easier for employees to get the order right, but also help build the customers’ confidence that the order that we're capturing and preparing is correct.”

Simplicity and accuracy are areas that Roll’d is also focusing on, according to its chief operating officer Dennis Koorey. Aside from improving their app’s ease of use, the twin focus has translated to the Vietnamese chain’s working relationship with Coles, which is set to expand.

“Probably the big surprise for us is...the grab-and-go area which is a very, very fast growing category for the supermarkets. People are wanting their traditional lunch ready to's very much about convenience. That side of the business is growing very, very fast,” he shared.

Referencing their loyalty programme, Nando’s ANZ CEO Amanda Banfield observed an “uptick in desire for digital connection”, revealing that over 25% of the fast casual chain’s sales are from its members. 

“We've seen them really want to connect with us even more deeply through the last couple of years,” she said, adding the chain is also seeing a rise in what they call ‘fakeaway’ - where customers recreate restaurant meals using ingredients sold by the brands themselves.

Banjo’s Bakery chief executive officer and managing director Jessica Saxby highlighted the resurgence of QR code as part of the ordering process.

“That's really changing the way that we serve our customers,” she said. “There is great benefit [to] both consumers and businesses [in terms of] efficiencies: not having to line up at a queue [and] you can easily order from the comfort of your dining tables. We're in the process now of actually aligning that with our retail app.”

The executives’ insights were part of the annual Leaders Panel during the QSR Media Sandhurst Conference, held virtually on October 18. Other topics discussed by the five-member panel included their employee engagement strategies and the state of cash in the payment space.

(Were you a registrant at the QSR Media Sandhurst Conference & Awards? Watch the panel on-demand by clicking here.)

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