If 2020 was a challenging time thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 arguably took things to the next level. Between labor shortages, supply-chain disruptions, and rising inflation, it’s a wonder the industry survived the past 12 months at all. That it did is evidence of the growing importance of technology.
According to one survey of restaurant operators, 87% of respondents either somewhat or strongly agreed that adopting new technology over the last two years has been critical for the survival of their business. There’s no turning back now, and while there are many factors that no one can predict, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that 2022 will see more restaurant operations embrace new and more powerful technology.
Here are three ways restaurant technology will continue to shift and evolve in the year to come.
Contactless will be the set standard
As it did in many other industries, COVID accelerated digital adoption in hospitality. The pandemic effectively swept restaurants into the digital age, and operators who are dragging their heels will find it tough to survive. Guests have become accustomed to QR-code menus, for example, and digital is now the status quo. More and more of the business of running a restaurant — from ordering to payment — has been put in the hands of the customer.
Many consumers appreciate this aspect of “the new normal” because they enjoy having a degree of control over their own dining experience. So, while the initial adoption of many of these advances came in response to the pandemic, it’s consumers’ demand for convenience that will ultimately keep them around. Having a flexible and robust first-party contactless capability will be critical for restaurants in 2022 and beyond.
Unique loyalty programs to give guests reasons to return
Food is getting more expensive, and restaurant prices are rising at a higher rate than grocery-store prices. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forecast for 2022, food-at-home prices are expected to increase between 1.5% and 2.5%, with food-away-from-home prices going up between 3% and 4%.
This could certainly make going out to eat a less appealing option than dining at home, and this looming discrepancy threatens restaurants’ post-pandemic recovery. How can restaurant operators hope to win back and retain customers in this era of rising prices and economic uncertainty? One strategy is to offer patrons incentives in the form of rewards for their loyalty. It’s a savvy move. In a recent survey of just over 1,500 American consumers, 69% of respondents said loyalty programs incentivize them to frequent a restaurant more often.
Restaurants that have implemented a pay-at-the-table solution have the capability of integrating loyalty and reward programs directly into the checkout process. This allows diners to collect and redeem rewards automatically when paying their bill, via an easy-to-use self-service interface at the point of payment. In a time when restaurants are operating with reduced staff, this seamless approach puts no extra burden on employees, because customers can scan, pay, collect or redeem points, and go, without any assistance from staff.
Even if it remains cheaper to eat at home in 2022, introducing loyalty and rewards programs can keep customers coming back by making them feel both empowered and appreciated.
Diners should expect a more self-driven experience
Largely as an industry-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants adopted contactless technology throughout 2020 and 2021. A lot of the traditional touchpoints in the dining experience have been transformed thanks to the widespread adoption of QR code digital menus, self-ordering, and self-payment options accessed via smartphones.
While many guests find that contactless tech elevates their dining experience, it’s also true that people like options as much as they appreciate convenience. Guests want to have options when it comes to ordering and paying. While many would prefer to do these things by using their own phones or a restaurant’s built-in tablets, others would like the option of interacting with staff.
Human servers will never be fully replaced by technology, nor would many diners ever want them to be. The human element is still a key part of the experience for many restaurant-goers. This new reality can have clear benefits for hospitality workers, because with customers essentially co-piloting things like ordering and paying, staff members are able to put less of their attention on logistics and more on relationship-building with guests. That can translate into higher sales for the operation, and bigger tips for individual servers.
A cold, fully contactless experience isn’t what guests are craving. They want more convenience and control, certainly, but also more connection. Giving your guests the technology to self-serve, but the option not to if they’d like more interaction, will be key to restaurants’ success in 2022.
Laurent May is the CEO of Ready, a fully integrated mobile self-ordering, payment, and loyalty technology solution that’s defining the next generation of hospitality venues. He has over 20 years of product management expertise in the electronic payments space leading high-performance teams.