Many US consumers nowadays expect restaurants to enable them to order before they come through the door or, once seated, to be able to use a tableside touchscreen device to do so, recent research shows. A growing number of restaurant-goers also want to be able to use digital devices to settle the bill and to be provided with at-the-table entertainment from wifi-based terminals, flat-screen TVs and other such technology.

Restaurants Will Need to Adopt a Multi-Channel Customer Service Approach

In the United States, the increasing number of restaurant-goers has been boosting turnover in the sector by over 2.5% a year, reaching $370 billion dollars in 2011, despite a slight decrease in the total number of restaurants in recent years. However, if they are to continue on this upward path, it’s very much in the interests of restaurant-owners to integrate new technology into their customer-facing processes – marketing, reservation systems and in-house service. Customers use digital tools on a daily basis and expect to be able to do so in a restaurant too, so it’s time that dining establishments came into line with their customers’ everyday habits, indicates a recently-published study* by Technomic, a research and consulting firm specialising in the food and related products and services sector. The findings showed that a majority of those surveyed expect to use digital devices to order food at restaurants more often in the coming year, with an almost negligible 3% expecting to use such technology less than they currently do. Nearly 60% of those polled use technologies related to ordering, coupons or special offers sent via email or text message at least once a month. Moreover, many of the panellists were also keen to use tableside touchscreen devices to order and pay, and showed interest in receiving digital rewards tied to loyalty programs.

Generation Y-ers keenest on innovation

Unsurprisingly, young people – between 18 and 44, especially those between 25 and 34 – are on average most eager to obtain these new kinds of services. These are also the ones who want to see more mobile device apps available to help them stay in direct contact with the restaurant, so the proprietors ought to be taking note. Of course it’s hard to know which processes will suit a restaurant’s target market best and should be implemented right away but the Technomic report indicates that customers are generally willing to try out a range of new technologies at their favourite eatery. The Technomic analysts broke their findings down into two segments: casual dining establishments with limited service or a self-service approach; and the more traditional restaurants offering end-to-end customer service. Customers of these two categories of gastronomic establishment exhibit slightly differing behaviour and have somewhat different expectations. The findings show that 38% of customers at traditional restaurants are interested in two specific innovations: they would like to be able to use touchscreen-equipped tables to select their meals and send their orders directly to the kitchen; and they also want to be able to settle their bill that way.

New technology appeals to casual diners

Some 36% of these traditional restaurant customers would also like to be able to view the menu on a tablet computer. When it comes to services beyond the door of the restaurant, however, they show less interest in the latest technologies, with only 20% of them expressing the desire to make online reservations via the restaurant website. In self-service eateries on the other hand, there is much greater demand among customers for these same technologies, with 48% of those polled keen to use touchscreen-equipped tables, and 42% calling for tablet devices. The survey also quizzed restaurant-goers about the kind of entertainment they think restaurants ought to be laying on and here again more of the casual diners than the traditional foodies wanted to see the latest technologies in use, with 35% of self-service customers keen to be have a touchscreen table with an Internet or gaming connection at their disposal versus the 31% of traditional restaurant customers who said the same thing.

* Market Intelligence Report: Consumer-Facing Technology, carried out among 500 US adults