U.S. Restaurants Pleasing COVID-Conscious Consumers Using Technology

U.S. restaurants are still in a battle against COVID and its effects, including supply chain issues, resource shortages, and difficulties hiring. But Forbes Council Member Robin Gagnon said that the food industry has one important tool to help COVID-conscious consumers continue to patronize their restaurants – technology.

Restaurant owners have homed in on several technological advances to compensate for the lack of employees. Contactless ordering has been hugely beneficial for restaurants, and automation allows consumers to use kiosks instead of interfacing directly with staff. Both innovations have gone over well with consumers. Datassential reports that 79% of patrons prefer kiosks to servers, and the National Restaurant Association reports that 52% of customers are asking for food establishments to utilize more technology.

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Gagnon noted that customers may still be hesitant about dining in restaurants despite loosening COVID prevention protocols, leaving them reliant on dining apps. Dining apps, such as DoorDash or UberEats, are other contactless ordering mediums that have been staples during the pandemic lockdown and continue to facilitate connections between consumers and restaurants. The need for these services isn’t going away any time soon. A 2021 survey from Restaurant Hospitality reports that 53% of adults say that takeout or delivery apps are now an essential part of their lives.

Contactless payments are another hallmark of the restaurant industry’s shift into the tech world. Square reported that 94% of U.S. restaurants use contactless payment options like Apple Pay, Tap to Pay, or payment through PoS systems like iPads. COVID-conscious consumers also appreciate contactless payment methods; a Mastercard survey reports that 82% of respondents believe contactless pay is a cleaner way to pay. Gagnon predicted that contactless pay would become the norm in restaurants after COVID.

Other trends that Gagnon believes may catch on are customer suggestions for menu items, permanent installations for outdoor dining such as igloos or pergolas, and personalized, AI-powered menu boards. She noted that while technology helps keep the restaurant industry afloat, it will never replace the human connection that consumers love.

“The industry is still in the process of rebuilding,” Gagnon told Forbes, “and working to meet expectations from customers while creating new expectations for themselves.”