October 14, 2020

New normal inspires new innovations in restaurant industry

The pandemic has energized the entrepreneurial spirit of restaurant owners. Innovations include pop-up restaurants in parking lots and contactless ordering and payment options.

Due to COVID-19, the restaurant industry has seen more change in the last six months than in the last ten years according to Tama Looney, Brand Analytics & Customer Engagement Executive with Xenial, who has been in the restaurant industry for a decade and in the consumer insights and analytic industry for over 20. “Anything to maintain revenue during this time is important,” says Looney, “as well as making sure your service model is as safe as it can be for the customer and your employees so they feel comfortable coming back to you again and again.”

After doing scores of surveys, scouring restaurant industry news, and visiting restaurants in person, Looney has seen the industry quickly respond to the coronavirus pandemic to create socially safe restaurants by:

  • Offering contactless payment
  • Requiring employees to wear masks
  • Providing sanitation stations
  • Making sure there’s visible evidence that surfaces are being continually sanitized and wiped down
  • Closing down areas where people congregate
  • Providing kiosks and apps for contactless ordering
  • Clearly communicating about any new precautions in place

“As a customer, I want to feel comfortable and confident that your business is taking the precautions necessary to keep me and my family safe so that I can continue to grab food as well as have the normalcy that I'm looking for from a brand,” she says.

Fast responders succeed

Looking back, she’s noticed that the restaurants who have outlasted this unprecedented challenge were early adopters of technology in their operations. “Maybe they had an inventory management system that tied to their digital menu boards,” she says. “So, when the supply chain was disrupted and they ran out of tomatoes, they could easily swipe anything that had tomatoes to clear it from their digital menus.”

She’s also seen double-digit growth in consumers’ use of mobile apps to facilitate ordering, paying, delivery and pick-up. Pre-COVID-19, she says, consumers had app fatigue and were hesitant to download yet another app on their phones.

“Now there are progressive web apps, called PWAs, that look exactly like a mobile app but you don't have to actually download something through the app store,” she says. “And they don’t take up as much space on your phone.” (PWA’s are both searchable through and run through the browser vs. downloading the app through an app store; once saved to the home screen, it looks and functions just like a native app from the app store.)

Creativity abounds

What’s more, she believes the pandemic has really shined a light on the entrepreneurial spirit of restaurant owners. “I admire the innovation that has come out of this,” she says noting the emergence of pop-up restaurants in parking lots and expanded five-lane drive-thrus attended by staffers with iPads.

“In five months, I expect we will have 20 new things to talk about because restaurants are always innovating. All it takes is an infusion of technology into the space to really help each and every one of us to feel normal again when dining out.”

The National Restaurant Association and Heartland have teamed up to offer payments, payroll, point of sale, customer engagement and funding solutions to help manage and grow your restaurant. Learn more.