Six trends that will shape the QSR industry post-pandemic

By Simon Plant

Restaurant chains around the world are finding their feet again as efforts to contain Covid-19 improve and vaccination efforts accelerate.

But just as white collar workers will never return to the office in the numbers they did prior to the pandemic, the upheaval of the last year will leave an indelible mark on the future of the quick service restaurant industry.

Covid-19 presented restaurants with some unique operational challenges. But is also reaffirmed what is essential to thrive in this competitive game. Here then are size trends Fingermark™ sees as shaping the QSR industry from the counter to the kitchen and beyond.

Off-premises dining predominates: The shift away from dining in is not going to suddenly reverse course. We are already seeing major restaurant chains reconfigure their floor spaces, prioritising kiosk areas, collection zones and drive-thru real estate. 

These are decisions being taken with the next decade of consumer behaviour in mind. The innovations that sprung up in the QSR industry during the pandemic were primarily designed to get restaurants through a crisis intact. But many also resulted in speedier service and greater convenience for customers as well as smoother running of restaurants.

The key to it is the true “omnichannel” nature of the industry, where every option is covered when it comes to ordering, delivering and collecting fast food. This has become business as usual and the QSR industry is the better for it.

Contactless by design: While China embraced the humble QR code a decade ago as a way to quickly pay in restaurants, the Western world has been slower on the uptake. That changed last year as QR codes were used by hundreds of millions of people for the first time for contactless collection and payment for fast food orders.

Text-message based confirmation codes and barcode-based digital coupons also proliferated as many restaurants closed their doors entirely in favour of collection windows. Diners have embraced these contactless systems. Many prefer them. With the mere wave of a smartphone, they can collect and pay for their order. 

Mobile-first, or bust: Going hand in hand with contactless systems is the rise of the mobile-first approach to fast food. The smartphone app allowed restaurants to communicate directly with their customers through the pandemic, updating them on Covid requirements, revamped menu options and special offers.

The app is now the go-to place for many diners and is hugely valuable for offering loyalty programmes and capturing data on the behaviour and preferences of customers. The role of apps and the extension of them through wearable devices such as smartwatches, is only going to deepen in the coming years.

Personalisation is key: Fast food lovers are willing to have an app for their favourite fast food restaurant on their phone because they know it is worth their while doing so. An app tied to a user’s account can keep track of a diner’s ordering history for faster re-ordering, offer discounts, incentives and engage users with competitions and games.

The app can become the front window to a tailored menu and smooth the way for delivery and collection options. That personalisation is the key to improved customer loyalty for restaurant operators.

Data drives everything: By analysing all of that data coming from apps and other digital channels, restaurant chains can not only serve each individual diner more effectively, but see real-time trends across multiple stores that can inform decision making.

At Fingermark, our EyeCue drive thru management system analyses over 100,000 customer journeys ever day. With smart algorithms and machine learning, we are able to make sense of that data to offer meaningful insights for restaurant owners and their staff. 

The human touch is still essential: Those data insights, gleaned from across a restaurant chain’s operations, can also make for happier, more productive restaurant workers. A system like EyeCue™ allows frontline staff to quickly identify where bottlenecks are occurring and give them visibility into a drive thru lane’s performance. It empowers restaurant teams to make decisions based on evidence rather than hunches. It lets them see the results of their hard work. 

Increasingly, gamification elements will aim to improve staff engagement, encouraging them to compete against their peers and be rewarded for their productivity and their top-quality customer service.

Smart technology is set to play a bigger role than ever in the history of the QSR industry as we leave this pandemic behind. Used effectively, it will provide ways to not only measure and boost operational and customer satisfaction, but make the industry more resilient to whatever challenges lie ahead.

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