2021 restaurant trends: Agile tech will remain a crucial part of economic recovery

by Andrew Faulkner ([email protected]) 499 views 

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s been to think on our feet and pivot deftly. Agile technology solutions were vital in 2020 and will continue to be a crucial part of economic recovery.

That lesson rang particularly true within the restaurant industry. Many establishments found themselves needing to overhaul their business model or, at the very least, implement tools to quickly and effectively increase efficiency.

Restaurants that previously focused on dine-in, table-side service had to move from a high-contact business model to a low-contact model nearly instantly. Technology was a vital piece of this adaptation, as restaurants scrambled to implement online ordering and organize payment and pickup options.

“At the beginning of 2020, what we now refer to as pre-pandemic, our restaurants were averaging 1% of our total sales through digital ordering,” said Austin Samuelson, co-founder of Tacos 4 Life. “Now, as we have adapted to the changing times in the last year by adding app ordering, and online catering ordering and focusing on promoting our various digital ordering options, over 20% of our sales are now attributed to digital ordering. This has truly transformed the way we do business at Tacos 4 Life. Our goal is to continue to provide for our guests an excellent digital ordering experience and drive that number over 50%.”

Table-side restaurants like Tacos 4 Life had previously been slow to adopt online order placement, but now had to quickly integrate these systems into their businesses. Online ordering meant establishments needed to streamline their menus to make for a user-friendly online menu, as well as implement procedures to fulfill these orders and balance them with other methods of order placement.

With low- and no-contact pickup options came the need for new payment options. Some of these solutions were more complex, such as mobile apps or point-of-sale systems equipped with the technology to accept contactless payments from debit or credit cards. Other systems were simpler, such as using quick response (QR) codes to direct customers to an online payment portal.

No-contact payment options not only keep staff and customers safer, but also have the added benefit of saving money on costs like printing receipts, receipt presenters and pens.

Even quick-service restaurants that were already set up to take and fulfill orders in a low-contact environment (such as a drive-through) now had to find ways to make their customer lines move more quickly to handle the newly increased volume. One of the most effective ways this was accomplished was with “line busting” devices – handheld POS devices equipped with internet capabilities that allowed employees to take customers’ orders while they waited in line.

Restaurants weren’t the only industry that embraced the rapid adoption of new technology during the past year. Forced closures of retail stores drove many customers online, and stores that previously relied on physical shoppers searched for ways to incorporate digital shopping experiences.

In many cases, this meant creating a simple and seamless online shopping experience, particularly because of an influx of new online shoppers who face a learning curve as they adapt to new-to-them technology. In fact, eMarketer recently reported that retail e-commerce sales grew 27.6% in 2020.

Retailers are also hybridizing their customers’ shopping experiences, blending physical and digital shopping experiences. This includes online ordering with curbside pickup, digital signage, contactless checkout and self-checkout solutions.

During 2020, customers and businesses alike began rapidly adopting new technology for their shopping and dining experiences. This trend is not going to slow back down. Businesses in the foodservice and retail industries must continue to meet customers where they are at and offer multi-channel shopping experiences.

Business owners must position their business to be able to pivot quickly due to sudden and often-changing circumstances. We may not be able to predict what changes may be ahead for any business or industry in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with agile technology solutions business owners can stay ahead of the curve and be ready to meet customers’ needs.

Editor’s note: Andrew Faulkner is the owner and CEO of Little Rock-based Staley Technologies, a company that offers advanced point-of-sale and technology solutions to retailers and other companies. The opinions expressed are those of the author.