Research

Caterers, technology, and the fast-changing habits of diners

The average consumer now wants one or two-click convenience however she or he orders, whether on their desktop, their phone, tablet, at a remote kiosk or a screen on a caterer’s premises.

Customers’ habits are changing and suddenly caterers realise the future hangs on how they use technology for interaction.

The average consumer now wants one or two-click convenience however she or he orders, whether on their desktop, their phone, tablet, at a remote kiosk or a screen on a caterer’s premises.

As habits change, driven by technology, we can expect to see caterers recognise that personalisation, the ability to act on fast-moving trends and the creation of simple interfaces are how they meet new customer expectations. They must bring together technologies, including Order Ahead apps, and employ engagement platforms that ensure they become more agile.

As a result there will be increased investment in ordering ahead, self-scanning or in-app payments, putting power in the hands of the customer. Consumers will be able to order, pay and use loyalty points from any device including their desktop, phone, laptop, tablet or kiosk in the workplace atrium.

Alongside this, the growth of the experience economy and the dominance of social media in many lives will drive caterers to actively engage on with customers on social media platforms, amplifying good news.

Similarly, with one in eight Britons now vegetarian or vegan, according to 2018 research by UK supermarket chain Waitrose, QSR operators and caterers all take greater steps to accommodate increasing numbers of conscious customers. Technology will make life easier and safer. If, for example, a caterer has its own app, users can receive alerts when they are in danger of choosing a potential allergen or food that is against their beliefs.

Consumer technology will also have its impact. The artificial intelligence (AI) technologies behind familiar digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant will become integral to ordering from home, workplace, kiosk and restaurant table. A word of caution, however. Touch-screen technologies and smart speakers may supercharge convenience, but human contact is always needed.

As data accumulates from these interactions, ever more operators will understand the value of having a single software platform that pulls everything together.

Fully integrated systems enable hyper-personalisation so that nobody, for example, gets nuts in their salad when they don’t want them. This integration will unify ordering, delivery, kitchen management, point-of-sale and all-important loyalty rewards and stock management technologies on one platform. This will deliver fast insights into demand, supplying a detailed profile of each customer. Customers will receive the right offers and suggestions every time.

Apps will become more pervasive, enabling diners to order, pay, use vouchers or participate in loyalty schemes and discounts at the touch of a smartphone screen. Scan-and-go technology will enable push-button in-app payment, which will be driven by increasing integration of banks, fintechs and payment providers into caterers’ apps. Orders sent directly to the kitchen via apps will reduce queues and staffing requirements, as well as cutting down on food wastage by introducing greater predictability.

This ease of use and familiarity will discourage customers from eating elsewhere and average order sizes will increase. Whether guests are using kiosks or phone apps, software will pull masses of data together to ensure pinpoint accuracy in personalisation. The future of the catering industry will be built on customer engagement technology.

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