Technology changes the restaurant industry from time to time. And TikTok meals, push notifications, ChatGPT menus, and NFC payments have advanced hospitality technology even further.
Artificial intelligence has been one of the hottest technology trends in the restaurant sector for the past few years, and this will not change in 2024 either. AI has been used in the hospitality industry for nearly a decade, although initially only IVR voice menu systems were used. However, since 2020 and the events of that time, artificial intelligence has jumped back to the top of technology trend lists everywhere, with more serious uses and new solutions to restaurant problems, as well as addressing the sector’s labor shortage.
According to data from the American Restaurant Association, in 2023 the number of staff in each restaurant segment was not uniform, and full-service restaurants and buffets faced great challenges. Despite the slight uptick in employment at fast food restaurants and cafes, they see the same trend again this year: 62% of operators are still struggling with labor shortages, and 80% simply cannot fill open positions.
However, all hope is not lost from the point of view of artificial intelligence. Take Starbucks’ Deep Brew initiative, for example. Launched in 2020, the AI-powered solution not only predicts restaurants’ labor needs, but uses technology to perform unmanned tasks such as equipment maintenance checks and inventory. As of 2024, it is expected that further research into artificial intelligence could serve as a solution to the labor shortage in the restaurant industry, offering technological tools to eliminate the stress of constant hiring.
Over the past few years, guest preferences have also changed. So much so that George Lessmeister, CEO and founder of LGC Hospitality, says the home has become the restaurant’s main competitor unless the industry taps into new technology trends to enhance the personalization experience. The easiest way to make the guest experience more personal is to support it with technological solutions. If we put the power in the hands of the guest in this area, then he can do the customization himself: he can update his order, add extra services or change allergy data and other preferences. Their order history and changes are also saved in the app. Not only does this make product recommendations and other suggestions incredibly easy for a restaurant, but it also gives the user that “I’m remembered” feeling. A simple reorder button suggests that you would remember the regulars here.
According to Joe Guszkowski of Restaurant Business, guests expect two main things from a restaurant visit: convenience or experience. Customization through touch screens, order recommendations or other technologies is a perfect win-win solution: it provides an attractive, convenient experience for consumers, while it can bring up to 40% more profit to restaurants. In 2024, many more restaurants are expected to jump on the technology-driven customization trend with unique apps and guest-centric recommendations.
Automating restaurant operations with the help of technology has been on the industry’s radar for years, and in 2023 some of these ideas have become reality. Sweetgreen’s move to food preparation automation is a perfect example of this trend we’re talking about. Last May, Sweetgreen opened its first Infinite Kitchen, a robotic kitchen that uses automated technology to assemble each guest’s order from ingredients prepared by real restaurant employees. In an interview with Restaurant Business, Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman said, “Customers seem to love it,” which isn’t a surprising finding given that Infinite Kitchen’s technology reduces wait times and increases order accuracy.
Another highly successful example of automation is self-service touchscreen kiosks. The main reason for their popularity: increasing sales and reducing costs. Yum Brands Habit Burger, for example, achieved 10% more sales through kiosks than through the cash register, reflecting what CEO David Gibbs calls superior profit flow. Kiosk ordering also reduces the need for extra staff, allowing restaurants to reduce labor costs while freeing up existing staff to perform more valuable tasks focused on the guest experience. As automation can reduce time, cost and customer stress, it can be expected to grow by leaps and bounds in 2024.
In 2022, C+R Research found that Americans would spend an average of $219 per month on subscription services, covering everything from music and movies to games and news. With such high-spending guests, it’s no surprise that coffee shops have jumped on the subscription bandwagon. Panera Bread was the first to try this model, launching its Unlimited Sip Club subscription in 2022. The membership costs $119.99 a year, which gives you unlimited hot or iced drinks, but Panera isn’t worried about the impact on its beverage service business. Why? Because when Sip Club members used their discounts, they ended up paying out of pocket for the extra snacks every third time. When PF Chang followed suit with a $6.99 monthly subscription that offered perks like free shipping, the industry started paying more attention to the subscription trend. Rick Camac of the Institute of Culinary Education says this is just the beginning. “Customers are used to subscriptions and regular monthly income helps restaurants maintain cash flow.” By combining the savings that guests love with guaranteed monthly revenue for restaurants, the subscription offers an innovative and exciting solution that we expect to see much more of in 2024.
When home delivery was in full swing, many of us saw couriers, bicycles or scooters stop in front of our house, but what about technologies like drones? Advanced delivery systems are already under development. El Pollo Loco has been testing drone delivery since 2021. A delivery system called Air Loco was tested in Costa Mesa, reducing the scale of classic home delivery. Since then, other companies like Chili’s, It’s Just Wings and Maggiano’s Little Italy have jumped on the hype train and also experimented with introducing technology-driven programs.
However, restaurants without a delivery system don’t need a drone to improve their options – an app that includes delivery integration is enough.
Restaurants without a logistics system don’t even need a drone to improve their options, just an app with delivery integration is enough. Whether offline restaurants focus on delivery and takeout or tech-savvy restaurants start experimenting with drones, the adoption and refinement of delivery systems will be a trend throughout 2024.
In summary, 2023 has seen huge changes in food service industry trends, but despite all the ups and downs, the year has seen a lot of growth for restaurants. The development of technological capabilities, AI-based innovation, customizable solutions, and transformation are the path marked by technology towards the future of the restaurant industry. 2023 was full of digital developments, and restaurant technology trends will continue in 2024.