As the dust of the pandemic settles and businesses turn their attention to pressing new issues on the horizon, new technology trends are taking the stage. Talking heads can predict a brave new world or warn of gloom and doom, but if you’re interested in the issues that will actually affect the restaurant industry, it’s best to go to the source: senior leaders from the actual brands that populate the space.
And what they are saying is this: 2023 will be the year of driving smarter efficiencies and reducing technology proliferation through the use of more unified systems. That’s the key takeaway from Qu’s fourth annual survey of quick service restaurants (QSRs) and fast casual brands with more than 25 locations. Our survey participants represent 135 respondents from 85 brands that operate over 37,000 locations in the United States.
Their responses are informed by the common obstacles all businesses are facing in 2023: a looming recession, continued supply chain pressure, and the need to control rising costs while improving profitability at scale.
The survey illuminated eight major trends that we expect to shape restaurant technology and the digital experience over the next 24 months. Let’s take a look.

Trend #1: Increased predictability in digital sales patterns

The pandemic-driven spike in digital growth wasn’t going to last forever, and our respondents think this is the year that it will end. While digital sales are expected to continue to increase year-over-year as a percentage of overall sales, that rate is going to slow. Businesses will see more predictability, and, on average, should be able to expect one-third of their sales to come from digital. In addition, QSR growth is expected to outperform fast casual. Get more data on these predictions.

Trend #2: Order accuracy must improve

Across the board, off-premise customer satisfaction rates are 15-20% lower than on-premise rates. Guests value a consistent experience across channels above all. No one wants ranting Yelp reviews or unfortunate Instagram tags, so nearly two-thirds of operators seek to improve the accuracy of kitchen fulfillment for off-premise orders. They’re looking for better solutions to make that happen, preferably including kitchen production optimization. (Here’s an integrated KDS/POS solution)

Trend #3: Unified systems for ordering and kitchen

To meet the challenges of trend #2, half of the respondents plan to upgrade to unified commerce platforms and the cloud. They’re expecting these upgrades to drive improvements in order accuracy, fulfillment speeds, and overall efficiency over the next two years. There were some differences in priorities between QSRs and fast casual brands.

Trend #4: Shifting technology investment priorities

After holding a top investment priority spot for the past three years, online ordering has been dethroned. It’s now the fourth investment priority, trailing behind cloud point-of-sale (POS) solutions, unified platforms and foundational architecture, and mobile/loyalty solutions. You may have noticed that unified systems are making their second appearance on this trend list, signaling a clear shift in the winds with a greater emphasis on reduced technology debt and cost control. See all companies’ technology investment priorities, including kiosks and CDPs.
It’s clear that tech proliferation has generated a new trend towards platforming. Improved data capture, integrations/APIs, and internal efficiencies were cited as top reasons for the gravitation towards unified ordering systems and solutions.

Trend #5: Centralized data access and ownership

Lack of centralized data on which to base business decisions has been an ongoing pain point for many years. But data is no longer simply “nice to have;” restaurants are starting to demand it from their technology providers. Data centralization is clearly a key driver underpinning the trend towards unified systems and platforming. Unsurprisingly, only 7% of QSR and fast casual brands reported they can easily extract and use data to drive decisions. Check out “The Future of Data Starts Here,” with Darien Bates.

Trend #6: AI and machine learning

AI & Machine Learning are at the top of the innovations priority list with 70% of operators citing they’ll use it this year to increase efficiency, automated processes, profitability, and data collection/intelligence. In 2022, only 13% of operators selected AI/ML as a priority. (Robotics and Voice ranked #2 and 3, respectively). ChatGPT and the efficiency needs of restaurants have a big part of this but it’s also just time. 

See how Qu’s real-time reporting app notify uses AI and machine learning to help store managers monitor and forecast sales activity.

Trend #7: Functional alignment in the C-suite

Functional leaders within the same brands selected differing technology investment priorities, showing misalignment across organizations when it comes to building a tech stack that is sure to scale for the next decade, at least. This was not that shocking, given that restaurants manage many competing technologies. What is certain, however, is that better alignment will be critical for the healthy, margin-favorable future of restaurants. See what systems marketing, technology, and operations leaders prioritized.

It’s a brave new world indeed, and operators aren’t going to be left behind. A whopping 70% reported that they’ll use AI and machine learning (ML) this year to increase efficiency, automated processes, profitability, and data collection and intelligence. This is a huge shift from 2022, when only 13% of operators selected AI/ML as a priority. Robotics and voice ranked second and third among innovations that restaurants intend to pursue this year. ChatGPT and the efficiency needs of restaurants have played a big part in this booming trend. 

Trend #8: Technology providers must be more transparent

Restaurants are no longer willing to settle when it comes to their tech service providers. Our research found they’re looking for tech companies they can trust to be transparent, responsive, and more customer-service focused than ever before. Our company’s core values at Qu boil down to the acronym “REST” as we want to give restaurant operators some rest from all the disruption they’re experiencing every hour of the day. REST breaks down as our guiding principles of Responsibility, Evolution, Stability, and Transparency.
These are the top eight trends we extracted from our survey, which we’ve conducted every year since 2019. Each year, we learn a lot about the state of technology, guest purchasing patterns and related changes in both. But this year’s data results were richer and more substantial than ever.
We packaged all the survey data and summary analysis into a comprehensive State of Digital Report, complete with infographics for easy digestion of the latest industry insights. The report covers the top findings centered around these eight trends.
Have a read to learn what enterprise restaurant brands are expecting to play out over the next 12-24 months, including technology investment priorities, top innovations, critical business challenges and digital sales patterns.

Download the full report here.

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