‘The Restaurant of the Future’ will provide convenient takeout, digital ordering, enhanced cleaning

Deloitte report reveals nearly two-thirds of consumers will not soon return to on-premises at levels before pandemic

A new report from Deloitte suggests restaurants need to respond to consumers’ digital adoption and desire for off-premises dining due to their experiences with the pandemic. The Restaurant of the Future: A Vision Evolves notes that dining out is on the table, but frictionless ordering is at the top of the menu with respect to consumer needs. Restaurants that implement cleanliness and safety protocols in transparent ways, will find many fans and engender customers looking to return to on-premises dining.

Restaurants adapting to consumer desire for convenience, safety

According to Deloitte, 64% of consumers actually do not plan to return to pre-pandemic levels of on-premises dining within the next six months. This means that restaurants will need to embrace and deploy convenient, off-premises dining options:

  • First, 61% of consumers now order carryout or delivery at least once per week, up 29% from one year ago and 18% prior to the pandemic.
  • Second, 67% or about two thirds of on-premises diners prefer to order food through digital channels.
  • Third, 33% of consumers consider enhanced cleanliness and safety protocols important in returning to dining more frequently and sooner.

COVID has certainly accelerated many of these changes, notes The Restaurant of the Future. The report uses data from a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted in September 2021. These respondents had ordered food from restaurants within the last three months.

Jean Chick, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and U.S. restaurant and food service leader, commented, “It’s been said that the only constant is change, which holds true for the restaurant industry today. The pandemic has accelerated the progress of the restaurant of the future, calling for fundamental shifts in business models to meet new demands. Now, amid continued pressures in areas like supply chain, safety-related costs, and labor availability costs, restaurants should work strategically to build loyalty among on-premises and off-premises diners. Those that can quickly adapt and meet diners’ evolving demands for convenience, frictionless digital experiences and safety can be poised to not only survive, but thrive.”

Providing the convenience customers want

Consumers are looking for convenient off-premises options that offer them “restaurant style quality and variety,” says Deloitte. With consumers not returning to on-premises by and large for the next six months, the occurrence of off-premises dining has grown. The stakes are certainly high for restaurant operators that want to continue to grow their business, whether they be large chains or independent, single-unit owners.

Restaurants will find success in providing quick and high-quality offerings to appeal to these consumers. Three in five customers expect the same quality and freshness from any form of takeout as they do in the dining room. But they expect speed. A total of 68% of consumers don’t want to wait more than 30 minutes for their food (same as 2020).

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Spending at QSRs (quick-service restaurants equivalent to fast food) has increased 100% over the past year. Consumers order from QSRs most often at 62.6% and fast casual at 52%. Meanwhile, ordering at casual-dining restaurants is at 40.5%.

Restaurant operators are turning to technology and different real estate formats. Consequently, 79% of respondents say they are likely to order from ghost kitchens. This is a trend that is 20% greater than a year ago and 32% higher than two years ago. The drive-thru is still king, with 37% of consumers ranking it as a top choice.

Attracting and keeping customers via loyalty, enhanced cleaning

Loyalty programs and enhanced cleaning can go a long way in attracting and retaining customers. The numbers bear this out. According to The Restaurant of the Future, the average consumers participates in two loyalty programs, and 79% of consumers say their participation impacts where they will dine.

Enhanced cleaning and safety protocols are paramount to consumers. A total of 33% of all consumers indicate that enhanced cleanliness and safety protocols are important to returning to on-premises dining sooner and dining out more frequently. Above all, this is an expectation of Boomers (32.3%), GenX (23%) and Millennials (25.2%). It’s less of an issue for Gen Z (4.9%).

“Consumers must visibly see the procedures taken to protect the preparation and transport of their food to instill confidence in the dining experience,” says the Deloitte report. As a matter of fact, the ongoing pandemic has permeated consumer perceptions of dining at restaurants and ordering their food.

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Due to these trends, operators can use their safety protocols to bring back customers and keep them. They may even be able to charge a premium for these practices. A total of 55% of respondents are willing to pay between 10% and 50% more to learn about the safety and cleanliness that surround the preparation and transport of their food.

Furthermore, advances in robotics and its role in commercial kitchens is driving home opportunities for operators. The resulting improvements in accuracy, efficiency and cost control are much needed as restaurants face supply chain challenges and surging prices. More than half of the survey respondents (54%), notes Deloitte, would order from a partially or fully automated kitchen. On the food payment side, 25% of customers prefer a digital or contactless payment method to a physical one now that such technologies are advancing.

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