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Survey: Human touch still vital in restaurants

Survey: Human touch still vital in restaurants

Consumers increasingly embrace technology, yet many prefer to deal with staff directly, the National Restaurant Association finds.

Consumers’ use of technology to interact with restaurants is increasing, but a significant number of consumers — even younger diners — say they prefer dealing with restaurant staff directly, according to new research released in late October by the National Restaurant Association.

More than one third of respondents overall said they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now compared with two years ago to order delivery, redeem rewards and pay for meals. Unsurprisingly, that percentage was much higher among younger consumers. The NRA survey polled more than 1,000 American adults in early October on technology use.

Fifty-three percent of Millennials (ages 18 to 34) and 43 percent of those ages 35 to 44 said they use restaurant technology more than they did two years ago, compared with 26 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 64), the survey found. Use of restaurant technology also was much higher among upper-income households, according to the NRA.

Among households with incomes of $75,000 and higher, 52 percent said they use various restaurant technologies, as did 55 percent of those in households with income levels of $100,000 and higher.

Over the past two years the number of restaurants offering mobile apps, online ordering or other technology services has increased rapidly. Hudson Riehle, the NRA’s senior vice president of research, said that trend will continue.

“As restaurants integrate more customer-facing technology, usage among consumers is growing,” Riehle said. “The use of technology from both the operator and the consumer perspective is another tool in the tool belt, not only in how consumers determine where to eat, but also how operators engage and communicate with that consumer.”

For instance, Taco Bell recently joined a growing list of chains to roll out a mobile app that allows guests to use their smartphones to order, pay and then skip the line.

Outback Steakhouse introduced “Click Thru Seating,” allowing guests to view current wait times at their local location via smartphone or online, and put their names on a waitlist to get seated faster.

Still, Riehle added, “It’s important to note that a substantial number of consumers say they still prefer to deal with restaurant staff, underscoring that this is still an industry of hospitality where the human factor will always be paramount.”

Of two thirds of consumers who are not using restaurant technology more, half said they prefer dealing directly with people.

This was true among 61 percent of Millennials ages 18 to 34, while only 42 percent of those over 65 gave that reason. Fifty-nine percent of consumers ages 35 to 44 said they prefer dealing with people, as did 46 percent of those ages 45 to 55.

Use or ownership among 18- to 34-year-olds was very common, at 90 percent. Eighty-nine percent of 34- to 44-year-olds have smartphones or tablets, along with 62 percent of 45- to 55-year-olds; 60 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds; and 34 percent of those 65 and over.

What consumers are searching for

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Among smartphone and tablet users overall, 32 percent say they would use the devices to pay, rather than cash or a debit or credit card, if offered.

Most smartphone users say they use their devices for restaurant-related tasks at least a few times per year, such as looking up a location or hours of operation, viewing menus, reading online reviews, using rewards or special deals, or ordering takeout or delivery.

Half of smartphone users said they look up nutrition information on their devices several times per year, and 25 percent use their smartphones to pay for meals about that often.

Among those who use their devices for such tasks weekly, the age spread narrowed, Riehle said.

“While overall usage of restaurant technology options is still more common among diners in the Millennial generation compared with Baby Boomers, the age gap generally levels out when it comes to frequent users,” he said.

For example, 15 percent said they look up nutrition information on a mobile device at least once per week. That was true among 14 percent of consumers ages 18 to 34, 19 percent for Baby Boomers, and 12 percent of those ages 65 and older.

Eleven percent said they use smartphones for rewards or deals at least once per week. That was true for 11 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 12 percent of those ages 65 and older. Only 6 percent of Baby Boomers said they use their smartphones to collect rewards or look for deals that often.

Ten percent of Millennials said they pay for meals with a mobile device at least once per week, which was the same rate as Boomers. Overall, 9 percent of survey respondents said they use mobile to pay that often.

Overall, among non-technology users, 15 percent said they don’t know how to use it, and 12 percent said the restaurants they typically patronize don’t offer tech options. Five percent said they don’t use technology because they don’t trust it to work correctly.

The survey found that 70 percent of respondents said they own or regularly use smartphone or tablet devices.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout


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