March 28, 2024

New report examines the technology landscape in today’s restaurants

Improving speed and accuracy, enhancing convenience are tops for consumers and operators.
2024 Restaurant Technology Landscape Report Cover

The report concludes that the addition of convenience-enhancing options are most important to consumers.

Tech adoption has accelerated and word of new restaurant technologies spreads daily. While operators have important opportunities to enhance the customer experience, amplify marketing, and operate more efficiently through tech, new research shows consumers’ attitudes toward tech use in their restaurant experiences vary greatly by age group and service segment—fullservice, limited-service, and delivery. 

While the majority of operators consider the way they apply technology to their operations to be mainstream (vs. leading edge), what's most important isn’t necessarily to be leading edge, but to fit the tech strategically to the customer base they serve.

The National Restaurant Association’s new Restaurant Technology Trends Report 2024 looks at responses from more than 1,000 adult consumers and has determined that the addition of convenience-enhancing options, like accessibility to the restaurant via smartphone, web- or app-based ordering systems, and digital or contactless payment options, were most important to them. 
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"Restaurant operators have tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and are constantly innovating—sometimes through new dishes or flavors, and sometimes through new business practices,” said Association President & CEO Michelle Korsmo. "More than 3 in 4 operators say technology gives them a competitive edge, and this research could help them find the right technology fit for their restaurants and customers."

Consumer tech preferences differ by service segment

For most fullservice customers, engagement with employees is an integral part of the experience of going out to eat at a sit-down restaurant, and the data suggests this isn’t changing any time soon. Most consumers don’t appear interested in trading this high-touch interaction for a completely tech-driven experience.

However, 60% of fullservice consumers said they’d likely use computer tablets to place their orders at the table and 65% said they’d use them to pay the check. Another 63% said they’d be comfortable using a smart phone to place their orders or pay the bill. It’s not essential that fullservice restaurants have those options, but many consumers think they’d be nice to have.

In the limited-service category, most consumers show an affinity for tech that would increase transaction efficiency, especially to order and pay. Seven in 10 limited-service consumers indicated they’d use smartphone apps to place orders, and another 65% would use them to pay for purchases. Among baby boomer respondents, fewer than 50% said they’d use those options.

In the off-premises occasion, technology is already baked into consumers’ expectations. Customers want to be able to access, order, customize, and pay for their to-go and delivery orders on their computers or smartphones. If they can’t, they’ll order from somewhere else. Among off-premises customers, 84% said they’d place orders using a restaurant’s website and 71% said they’d likely place their orders through a third-party delivery service. 

When asked about payment methods, 79% prefer contactless or mobile payments, with 73% opting to use digital wallet options, like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal, or Venmo.

"Understanding which technologies customers in each segment would like to have, really want, and consider essential, provides operators with substantial opportunities to enhance the customer experience, amplify marketing and operate more efficiently," said Hudson Riehle, the Association’s SVP of Research & Knowledge. “"The data clearly shows that restaurant operators and owners are embracing technology and integrating it into their daily operations.”

Operators recognize the value of technology 

For the report, operators were provided a list of 15 technology applications affecting four key areas—marketing and sales, customer experience, operational efficiency, and developing tech, and were asked to identify the technologies they’d most likely invest in in 2024. Their top pics:
  • Tech designed to boost sales and customer traffic, with 63% saying they plan to devote resources to digital or location-based marketing this year.
  • Loyalty/reward system tech, with 61% of limited-service operators being somewhat more likely than fullservice operators (52%) to invest. 
  • Tech to boost operational efficiencies, with 52% of operators planning to incorporate technology into back-office functions, such as payroll, finance, and tax and food-safety compliance.
  • Tech to improve Inventory control and management systems; 52% say they plan to increase their investment in 2024.
  • One third will invest to develop smartphone apps.
  • Cybersecurity improvements, with 43% of fullservice operators indicating they’re likely to invest, and 31% of limited-service operators planning to do the same. 
“Developing” tech, such as the use of robotics for food prep and service and the use of drones for delivery, is still on the horizon for the majority of operators. 

Get your copy of the Restaurant Technology Landscape Report 2024 today. Download here.
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