Diners will take all the technology they can get

Takeout and mobile apps are table stakes, but guests are also welcoming ghost kitchens, voice ordering and robots, Deloitte found.
Coco robot
More customers say they would order from a ghost kitchen or opt for robot delivery. / Photograph courtesy of C3

We've known for a long time that diners love convenience. They want to order from restaurants how they want to, when they want to. It's one factor driving the proliferation of technology in restaurants right now.

That said, the extent to which guests are embracing that technology, and asking for more, is still pretty surprising.

A recent survey of 1,000 Americans by consulting firm Deloitte takes stock of consumer habits around things like delivery and digital ordering as well as more advanced technologies like voice ordering and automation. Simply put, most customers are in favor of all of it.

Taken together, the results offer a glimpse into how restaurants might continue to evolve in this new tech-enabled era.

Here are five key takeaways from the study.

Customers are ordering more takeout than ever. Fears that pickup and delivery might fall off as dining rooms reopened appear to have been greatly exaggerated. According to Deloitte, customers are ordering takeout more often than they were in the thick of the pandemic—by a lot. More than 60% of respondents said they order delivery or takeout once a week, up from 29% a year ago and 18% before the pandemic.

QSRs are the most popular takeout destinations, with 62% saying they order fast food most often, followed by fast casuals (52%) and casual-dining concepts (40%). 

Meanwhile, ghost kitchens have officially entered the consideration set. Nearly 80% of respondents said they're likely to order from a ghost kitchen, 20% more than last year and 32% more than two years ago. 

Apps are in-demand, both off-premise and on. When ordering takeout, 57% of consumers said they use a mobile app, which is only a little higher than last year's figure of 54% and not all that surprising. What is surprising, though, is the amount of guests who said they would order digitally from inside a restaurant. Nearly two-thirds (64%) prefer that method when dining in, compared to 53% who did last year. 

Customers want to order direct. Diners' preference for using a restaurants' own channels vs. a third-party aggregator has been well-established, and is underscored by the Deloitte study. Forty percent of customers opt to order through a restaurant's app or website, while just 11% prefer to order through a third party.

Customers welcome more automation. A vast majority (81%) would order from an automated voice system in the drive-thru, Deloitte found. The amount who would be willing to have their food delivered by a robot or drone is up by 10% over last year. And 54% would be OK ordering from a partially or fully automated kitchen. Most of these technologies are just getting off the ground, but the demand is clearly there.

The results are based on a survey of 1,000 Americans in September who had ordered from a restaurant within the past three months.

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