Open Mic: The Future of Dining in a Digital World

By 45/RPM Staff

06.22.2021


Open Mic is our new blog series where we discuss and explore trends related to digital strategy, brand identity, and digital experiences – to dissect their impact on businesses. 

The restaurant industry has changed. Even before COVID shuttered doors worldwide, the way we order our food and our dining experiences were already transforming. The truth is that the restaurant industry has been prime for disruption for quite some time now. In this “Open Mic” session, Julien, Katie, Noriko, and Llorch sit down and explore the future of dining experiences in a digital world.

The Digital Disconnect

For decades restaurants only had to worry about serving good food and the dining experience as a whole. Those two alone were enough – now insert changing consumer demands and the introduction of technology (into a not so tech-savvy industry) to keep up with evolving customer behaviors, and what we are left with is a digital disconnect.   

“There is a disconnect from real-life experience to the digital experience for the same restaurant – the lack of a strong digital presence creates a digital disconnect and loss of human connection/touch.”

New emerging digital touch points and the reactionary implementation of technology have uncovered a significant crack in an industry undergoing rapid transformation when it comes to inclusion and equity. As nearly every restaurant transitioned to mobile orders and ordering via QR codes amid rising health concerns – those who don’t own or can’t afford to own a mobile phone were left unconsidered.

 “Llorch made a really valid and interesting point. A lot of people don’t have mobile devices; to me, that’s an inclusion and equity issue. A lot of companies/restaurants aren’t thinking about that. How many people were they not able to serve? Because they didn’t have a phone or if their menu was inaccessible.”

We collectively acknowledged that finding a balance between digital accessibility (mobile and web), creating a brand experience that extends beyond the restaurant doors, and the demand for convenience from customers is tricky. But, it’s a needle that needs to be thread. 

The Demand for Convenience

Ultimate convenience is the new black. Today’s tech-savvy consumers demand digital engagement from restaurants, and in a more off-premises world [think delivery, drive-through, curbside pickup], seamless digital experiences are crucial. As restaurants adapt to new and different types of customers, there is a further need to create experiences that resonate with each segment. 

“The experience has to make sense with what your customers want. The key is to know your customers, the people who like you, and what they want. There is not the same solution for every restaurant; It has to be pretty custom-made. Every restaurant has its own essence. If you treat all the restaurants with the same experiences and solutions- it’s not going to work. We don’t have to dehumanize processes even if we are using digital materials.”

As technology continues to get smarter and faster, it will inevitably change how – and where consumers buy food.  From ordering via QR codes, and iPad menus to filtering menus by dietary restrictions there are more intuitive experiences and digital options. Finding ways to combine convenience and experiences is critical to restaurants' business and digital strategy. 

The Future of Dining

We can only speculate on the restaurant of the (not so distant) future. Everyone is still trying to figure it out. One thing for sure is that delivery and the delivery market are here to stay. According to Report Linker, the global food delivery industry grew from $120 Billion in 2020 to $126 Billion (a 10.3% growth), with projections extending to a $192 Billion industry by 2025. 

The exorbitant operational costs of these food delivery platforms and the consumer demand for better experiences are driving restaurants to bring back in-house delivery – and own the entire experience. 

"It's interesting to see how companies don't want to be under these platforms, and they want to handle delivery again. I think it will be a balance [between 3rd party delivery and in-house delivery] to give people options, but I feel like we are going back and forth. A lot of brands are trying to implement many things that people might not want or need to use. It will be a matter of seeing what works and what doesn't."

The question is, how will the food delivery industry evolve and become a more intuitive experience for consumers and restaurants. The answer isn't simple, it's a bit of trial and error, but more innovation is inevitable. 

"I'm a bit of a futurist. We have these amazon lockers now that you can go pick up at convenient locations. I foresee something similar with insulated lockers, where food can be delivered, and customers can walk down the street and pick it up if they don't have the option [of] delivering to your house. I think there will be a lot more innovative delivery processes emerging."

From the innovation in contactless delivery to shrinking dining rooms and the rise of ghost kitchens, the future restaurant will rely heavily on seamless digital experiences across multiple touch points.