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Adding Digital Dining Priorities to the Menu

To offer the best customer experience, operators must plan for and prioritize the technology solutions that will most benefit them.
Angela Hanson
Digital Shopping

CHICAGO — One of the most important aspects of running a successful foodservice program has little to do with what's on the menu. In today's foodservice space, digital opportunity is happening all around and it's important to make sure restaurants are not left behind, according to The Coca-Cola Co.'s Josh Gurley.

Yet forecasting the future of digital dining is not easily done. Five years ago, predictions would have included humanoid robots serving food, augmented reality and delivery drones as major trends — and these predictions would have "wildly overestimated" technology's level of involvement in restaurants today, said Gurley, vice president, FSOP digital partnerships and capabilities for the Atlanta-based supplier. 

[Read more: NRA Show Highlights Guidance for Tomorrow & Beyond]

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Consumer-facing technologies have become table stakes for success, but guests are insisting that foodservice operators raise the bar, he explained during a 2024 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show session entitled "The Tech Equation: How Technology and Technique Come Together for Sustainable Digital Leadership."

In the changing foodservice space, Gurley noted that digital is a primary driver of six major restaurant industry trends:

  1. Reimagining ongoing guest engagement through digital experiences personalized for the guest (for example, loyalty programs with awards that match their taste).
  2. Refocusing on off-premise — drive-thru, pickup-only sites and delivery — all enabled by digital.
  3. Transforming the labor model through kitchen automation technology or digital order kiosks.
  4. Addressing changing tastes with methods such as custom menus built with rapid innovation to meet niche diets and wider tastes.
  5. Real-time dynamic pricing, among other levers, to navigate volatile ingredient costs.
  6. Blurring channel boundaries with nontraditional competitors entering the market.

Types of technology solutions that operators are most interested in learning more about these days include digital marketing/loyalty programs, back-of-house operations, automation and point-of-sale systems, among others. 

The good news is there are challenges that can be solved with technology, but retailers need to plan their priorities.

"If you don't know the ranking for you, what's the point?" Gurley posed.

[Read more: Developing the Recipe for Foodservice Success]

Today's digital foodservice guests skew younger, consisting primarily of Gen Z and millennials but also including younger Gen Xers, and are 50% multicultural. They make spur-of-the-moment visits, seek digital payment options, and desire convenience and loyalty program rewards. 

Additionally, they are making up a larger and larger portion of foodservice orders — over the next decade, digital orders could represent 35% to 50% of total restaurant revenue. "And that's huge," Gurley said.

The impact of digital engagement will mean different things for different brands, but there are three core elements that all operators can use as guidelines:

Make it relevant — Match consumers' nonconscious motivations toward a brand or product category. Determine the type of currency (points, dollars, etc.) that the program uses, as well as how to opt in and set up the program from a consumer point of view.

Keep them engaged — Create loyalty offers that are more persuasive and likely to drive more consistent loyalty behavior. Determine how consumers start to build up the chosen currency once they've opted into a loyalty program and how consumers can spend what they've earned and what they get.

Keep it interesting — Draw consumers back in during periods of low engagement or stalled behavior. There are additional tactics that can be leveraged to draw consumers back or reengage.

Operators should also invest in understanding and influencing the digital path to purchase. Because most guests don't know what they want when they begin browsing a digital menu, operators can lean into the entire journey for the opportunity to influence menu choices. 

Gurley recommends that retailers ensure their digital menus include branded beverage image assortment and feature bundles that include beverages to reach the 47% of guests who are likely to purchase a drink as part of a bundle. Additionally, 28% of guests are likely to add a beverage in a digital platform from a pop-up reminder, making it worthwhile to include a prompt to add a beverage to encourage meal completion.

It is by executing the fundamentals — assortment and awareness, bundles and capturing the upsell — that operators enable innovation, Gurley concluded.

The 2024 NRA Show took place May 18-21 at Chicago's McCormick Place.

About the Author

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson is Senior Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2011. Angela spearheads most of CSNews’ industry awards programs and authors numerous special news reports. In 2016, she took over the foodservice beat, a critical category for the c-store industry. 

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