5 ways restaurants are hungry for digital & shift to a customer-led journey

93% of restaurant executives say COVID-19 has had a significant or radical change on their business model.

Illustration of a hand holding a tray of food including a cheesburger, fries and a drink.

There is a disruption being served in ways that could not have been anticipated for quick service and fast casual restaurants. In early 2020, brands were forced to look closely at their operating models and current digital experiences and pivot in ways that would allow them to remain open and provide service to customers through delivery, drive through or even curbside pick-up. Adobe and Publicis Sapient surveyed quick-service and fast-casual restaurant leaders for a deeper dive into these changes. The need for agility regarding both technology and people became evidently clear and ROI benefits of making such changes are critical to the bottom line of these businesses.

COVID-19 has been a driving force to shift the thought process of restaurant brands to a digital customer-led journey. It has accelerated what would have been a natural digital progression over time to an immediate call to action. All restaurant brands were preparing for an increase in the need for digital to improve their business processes, but the roadmaps were much further out and lacked a real sense of urgency. The Adobe Digital Economy Index has shown that the digital economy is growing faster than the global economy overall, and this surge in eCommerce has left many restaurant brands unprepared for this level of acceleration pertaining to the customer led journey.

Restaurants have been built on a foundation of service, providing the right product to customers at the right price. Today’s challenge is that digital allows B2C brands to service customers where they are, and restaurant brands need to make the shift to a customer-centric methodology that considers and satisfies the customer’s exact wants and needs.

There are five ways this massive change will impact plans in 2021:

1. Most journeys have been disrupted.

To prepare for a future that is still largely unknown, many quick service and fast casual brands are rethinking their digital roadmap.

“93% of restaurant executives say COVID-19 has had a significant or radical change on their business model. “

When everything is changing around you, it’s a challenge to become grounded on a path forward. The impacts of COVID-19 mean people, processes and technology all must be reconsidered and re-evaluated. In the early days, this meant leaning into partnerships to fill gaps in digital capabilities and looking at ways that teams could scale to provide different types of service. What this means long-term is still being developed, but in the interim it’s clear that brands are taking the time to re-evaluate their customer’s journey and their plans to serve it.

2. Current digital offerings are lacking.

The roadmaps that were in place prior to COVID-19 were designed for a much slower ramp period to digital maturity and did not align to this accelerated consumer maturity.

“More than half of QSRs see significant gaps in their current digital offerings.”

COVID-19 highlighted digital gaps as restaurant teams came together to scale franchisees in a consistent manner and cascade that across regions in a localized manner. Adding to this complexity were food product shortages due to supply chain challenges. Digital offerings that were not dynamic showed the rigidity with many franchisees resorting to hand-printed signs, process changes for curbside pick-up and product availability or other communication that could not be actioned in real-time. Many brands have struggled and continue to struggle with these ongoing shifts as governmental restrictions on capacity and product availability put a strain on operations.

3. The majority of brands are planning to change their digital experience to meet demands.

What is needed now and going forward has changed.

“78% of respondents foresee changing their digital experience”

It’s no surprise that almost 8 out of 10 restaurant brands plan to make changes. Digital needs to serve a new purpose both for the customer and the operational staff. Scalability is top of mind and the new normal will include managing the shifting of behavior with convenience top of mind. Once a consumer has normalized a behavior it becomes an expectation going forward. It can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit with an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. As we approach nearly a year into the new normal, the timeline is solidified that these habits will become automatic.

4. Not all channels are equal, mobile will drive success.

The influx of smartphone usage grew faster than expected during this time, and the role of mobile as the center of the experience has been solidified.

“70% of QSR leaders view mobile technologies critical to success.”

One of the biggest changes that occurred is the switch from the priority role in which revenue was captured—from in-store to mobile. Mobile experiences were ranked at the top with third-party mobile apps and branded apps ranking first and second, respectively. Mobile will be critical, not only to have a meaningful journey, but also to build brand loyalty to encourage customers ordering directly from the restaurants, bypassing third-party delivery apps.

5. The ROI of digital is a meaningful way to drive value.

A positive for restaurant brands is that the investments made in digital during this time are paying off.

“A clear majority of QSRs report between 31% and 70% ROI on digital.”

Becoming an experience driven business has benefits, and restaurant brands are seeing their investments to a customer-led journey supported by digital investments bring value to the bottom line. As the new normal continues to be defined and shaped, the role of digital has firmly been cemented as critical to performance and success.

2021 will continue to bring the need for agility and the need for digital to support that agility. The five ways restaurant brands are leaning in to digital is one layer of the research that was facilitated by Adobe and Publicis Sapient to understand the transformation at hand.

To learn more from fast-casual restaurant leaders on digital maturity, the impact of delivery, the role of mobile and artificial intelligence (AI), and their outlook on a post-COVID world: Read the full report Covid-19 Leaves Restaurants Hungry for Digital: A New Era of Dining.