How digital ordering will evolve post-pandemic

The industry has come a long way technologically this year. Here’s a look at where things stand and how they might continue to develop.
Curbside Pickup
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurateurs probably feel like they’re living in the future, and you can’t blame them. The industry made a big technological leap in 2020, adding years’ worth of new capabilities in just a few months as the pandemic changed dining as we know it.

A big part of that has been a shift to more digital business—a trend that is expected to continue. By 2025, more than half of all limited-service sales will come through digital channels, according to research firm Incisiv. 

That means now is the time for restaurants to think about establishing or improving their digital presence. Here’s a look at the digital landscape today and how it might continue to develop post-pandemic.

Consumers really want digital options.

Seventy percent of them say they prefer to order digitally for delivery, and nearly 60% say they prefer to order digitally from fast-food restaurants, according to research by professional services company Deloitte. By offering online ordering, particularly for delivery, restaurants can make themselves more attractive to a large chunk of consumers. 

Some are even willing to pay extra for digital options: Consumers surveyed by Deloitte said they would pay an average of 14% more at restaurants that offer things like mobile apps or voice assistants.

It’s not just younger people who are going digital.

Baby boomers in particular have flocked to curbside pickup during the pandemic, according to research by digital advisory firm Mobiquity. That group reported a 300% increase in its use of curbside at restaurants, compared to a 151% increase for non-boomers, Mobiquity said.

And 88% of boomers said they will continue to use technology for daily tasks. That’s just slightly lower than the 90% of younger people who said so, Mobiquity said. 

Consumers of all ages are coming to expect these services, meaning no restaurant is exempt from the digital wave.

Restaurants are adapting like crazy, and they’re not done yet.

Restaurants have added a ton of new digital capabilities during the pandemic. Per Incisiv, more than 70% now offer curbside ordering, up from just 15% pre-COVID; 28% now offer Apple Pay, up from 13%. 

Contactless ordering, in general, has been and will continue to be a huge area of adoption: 51% of restaurants now offer it, and 31% plan to add it, said Melissa Wilson, principal with Technomic, during a webinar this week at the FSTEC Community.

“We think this is an important point to keep in mind and consider is many of these areas of technology that operators said that they're planning to add, they're actually looking to add within the next six months,” she said.

Overall, 68% of chains said their tech spending will increase either somewhat or significantly over the next two years, Wilson said—meaning the industry’s digital evolution is just getting started.

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