Following three years of unrest in the restaurant industry, dining in has returned. But curbside pickup and contactless ordering and payment has grown exponentially and continues to be a crucial part of QSR operations.
Today’s quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are much more resilient, flexible and creative than they were in early 2020. Pivoting quickly to meet changing demands became vital to staying afloat during the most recent, volatile COVID years.
Many operational models shifted swiftly to keep diners and staff safe while also meeting their everchanging needs.
Curbside pickup became one of the most popular and effective ways to provide safe dining experiences — with a convenient perk. People could order online and pick up their food and beverages without dining in or entering the restaurant.
On the other side of the same coin, business owners found it to be a viable ongoing strategy and while dining rooms are open today and the pandemic challenges are waning, contactless restaurant-related experiences are here to stay.
The truth is you can’t put the proverbial genie back into the bottle. QSRs understand that as consumers have become accustomed to contactless transactions, brands should continue maximizing them.
Technology helps QSRs navigate the labor shortage
Today, in-restaurant dining is back. However, widespread labor shortages have forced many restaurants to either shorten their hours or close their doors during days of the week they would normally be open.
The industry is still down 750,000 jobs from pre-pandemic levels according to the National Restaurant Association. As such, curbside pickup and contactless ordering and payment have become a godsend to short-staffed QSRs.
As of Oct. 31, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported 3.4 million fewer Americans were participating in the labor force compared to February 2020. There are more than 10 million job openings but just six million unemployed workers. QSRs are feeling the pinch.
By embracing and even encouraging curbside pickup and contactless ordering and paying, short-staffed QSRs can continue to thrive. Using both does not take the same level of staff interaction that an in-restaurant diner requires.
However, regardless of staffing challenges, frictionless commerce QSRs has longevity as even in-restaurant patrons will continue using contactless order and pay methods.
Provide clear curbside pickup processes
Remember, though, for curbside pickup to run smoothly and keep patrons returning to your restaurant, QSRs should make sure the process is efficient and convenient. Make online ordering easy and include clear instructions on where consumers should pick up their orders, particularly if you have a designated space for them.
Think Chick-fil-A for example, which provides special “mobile order” and “curbside” pickup instructions on its app and even has special parking for patrons when they arrive on site – “I’m here” for food to be delivered to their car. This brand makes the curbside process intuitive and easy to use.
Train staff for curbside pickup and promote the service to help it catch on with busy, on-the-go customers who prefer this service method.
With diners, less contact is more
Curbside pickup aside, customers also love the convenience of contactless and frictionless ordering and payments. The benefits include less contact with employees, decreased wait times and fewer objects they need to touch.
According to Mastercard’s Recovery Insights: Shift to Digital report, more than $53 billion of incremental spending occurred on e-Commerce in the United State in April and May of 2020. The shift to online is undeniable, even though consumers simultaneously crave human interactions. Dining in-store with the option to order and pay digitally gives consumers the best of both worlds.
They can be seated by a host, have servers recommend dishes or daily specials, and order through the server or with a tableside tablet, for example. A food runner brings their meal, and the diners can pay through the server using contactless payment methods or with a kiosk or a tableside device.
This helps QSRs as well, as they can efficiently serve more people with less staff.
Further, today’s tech-savvy individuals demand digital engagement from restaurants and want cutting-edge tech options that recognize who they are and what they like to eat and drink. The Deliotte study found 58% of consumers prefer ordering digitally from a QSR.
Digital options provide restaurants with the ingredients for change, upselling and loyalty.
Although a server might know returning patrons’ preferences, digital systems track them so anyone – even a brand-new staff member – can have the same information readily available.
Serving the QSR of the future
The future of frictionless operations, including curbside pickup and touchless ordering and payments, looks bright. They provide QSR diners with options – whether they choose to drive-thru to pick up their orders curbside or eat inside a QSR.
Many QSR owners have stepped into the future of innovation and must continue the momentum by differentiating the experience for their customers.
The COVID years have had lasting effects, and safety- and convenience-minded consumers want options that restaurant technology provides. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Laura has held a number of senior executive positions including CEO, President, and EVP with market research firms, and has managed 7 of the top 10 QSR chains’ national mystery shopping programs, including McDonald’s.