Consumer Products

How technology is shaping the fast food industry

By Sajith Wimalaratne - Last updated: Friday, November 17, 2017

A long time ago, the concept of fast food dining was considered a breakthrough in the restaurant industry. The idea that food that is ready to eat can be ordered and available to enjoy in a short space of time was considered the future.

If you fast forward (pun intended) a few decades to the present, the era of ubiquitous connectivity and the Internet of Things, these technologies are reshaping the way fast food restaurants serve their customers. We are already seeing how these businesses are responding to the way that their customers are conducting their lives and combining technologies to create new experiences for them. Essentially, technology is enabling customers to receive the fast food even faster.

In recent years, there have been a few technology advances that have had a positive impact on the fast food industry. We have are starting to see examples where technologies are used in restaurants to elevate the consumer’s engagement and experience. Also, autonomous vehicles, ground and air, that can be used to deliver products to you at home or when you are out and about. I will discuss these technology trends in a later post, so watch this space!! In this post I wanted to discuss the most time consuming elements at the restaurant –  ordering and payments. These include: mobile ordering, self-service kiosks, Facebook ordering and novel payment options (contactless payment, card-not-present payments and cloud-based payments.

Show me the money

Mobile food orderingMobile ordering: many businesses are testing mobile applications that allow customers to place food orders via a mobile app. For example both Starbucks and McDonalds have apps. These systems are growing in popularity and offer customers the convenience of reading the menu at leisure. In some cases a customer can arrive at a fast food restaurant where a prepaid order is ready for pickup. This recent technology has caught the attention of many consumers and there is a clear preference for outlets with a mobile platform. What is really being offered here is a premium experience for the consumer; for example, not have to queue to order, pay and then wait for your food.

Self-service kiosks: there has been a surge of self-service kiosks being deployed in many restaurants. For example, McDonalds is likely to launch its digital ordering platform later this year and is upgrading its restaurants with its “experience of the future”, which includes self-service kiosks. While the company has clarified that these kiosks will not lead to layoffs and employees will be moved to other areas, these technology initiatives have been shown to improve sales, Cowen analyst Andrew Charles stated that in McDonalds they saw a 5%-6% lift in sales in the first year after the remodel, and a 2% lift in the second year. Even the intention to adopt digital services is seen as a positive step, the mere mention that McDonalds was implementing new technology boosted the value of their stock.

Image: www.quicktapsurvey.com

Image: www.quicktapsurvey.com

Facebook ordering: in Oct 2017, Facebook announced that users can order food for takeout or delivery using both the Facebook mobile app and website. Companies specialising in Facebook-payment integration for restaurants such as ChowNow and NetWaiter are helping chains to get their ordering onto the popular platform. This is a fairly low-cost add-on to make, and it has the potential to grow sales, which always gets a restaurateur’s attention. Some restaurants have observed a 10 percent sales bump after implementing Facebook-based ordering and this is only set to continue.

Novel payment options: These include contactless payment methods, many of us have adopted contactless payment cards and we’re now moving towards contactless payments using smart phones such as Android Pay and Apple Pay. What I’m waiting for is “just walk out technology” such as Amazon Go to become mainstream, you simply walk into the restaurant, grab your order and just walk out, eliminating the need for even thinking about payment and needing to queue. The new technologies outlined above will give a more reliable audit trail,clearer insight into transactions, and increases in revenue, while eliminating the need to manually complete these tasks. The customer benefits from an elevated consumer experience.

Putting the consumer first

If you carefully think why there has been an increase in popularity with these technologies, the main reason is that none of these are a technology push. In my mind this is technology being used to provide a carefully designed  consumer journey and experience within the restaurant. This is not about having Apple Pay implemented for sake of having Apple Pay. These forward thinking restaurants are thinking how to elevate the consumer experience through technology.

What’s ahead? Restaurants that focus on improving the customer experience are more likely to see an increase in sales. Choosing to integrate new ordering and payment technology will not only improve the customer’s experience but will positively impact the company in more ways than one.


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AuthorSajith Wimalaratne


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