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Three Super-Sized Digital Changes To The Restaurant Industry That Could Be Here To Stay

September 23, 2021

Forbes.com originally published the following article by Jim Hardeman, CMX's Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Product Officer.


Restaurants were hit harder than many other industries during the pandemic.

The National Restaurant Association reported that restaurant and foodservice sales fell by $240 billion and more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments closed their doors in 2020, either temporarily or permanently. Many of those that have managed to survive or even thrive over the past 18 months have one thing in common: They used technology to quickly adapt their business models, operations and offerings to meet constantly changing conditions.

Many of those that have managed to survive or even thrive over the past 18 months have one thing in common: They used technology to quickly adapt their business models, operations and offerings to meet constantly changing conditions.

While Covid-19 wiped away six years of sales growth in the restaurant industry, according to a representative of the National Restaurant Association quoted by CNBC, it has also fast-tracked the rate and scope of the industry's digital transformation. In a July 2020 survey from McKinsey, executives across industries estimated that their companies accelerated the digitization of customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years. Digital hasn’t just been a temporary lifeline for the industry — it has transformed how it manages guest experiences, store operations and the supply chain today and likely into the future.

As businesses balanced the impact of COVID-19 on their operations, employees and customers, they also had to contend with unprecedented supply chain issues, including disruptions, interruptions and shortages. As a result, the ability to effectively navigate and manage a large network of global suppliers became much more complicated. Yet just like pre-pandemic times, supply chain management remains critical to the efficiency of restaurant operations, as well as to the quality and consistency of the customer experience.

As a technology supplier that offers a quality, risk and compliance solution to restaurant brands, my company has witnessed the industry’s digital transformation firsthand. From my perspective, here are three of the most universal advances that restaurants have made, all of which could shape up to become the industry’s new normal:


1. Guest Experience

The most obvious technology advances in foodservice have been those that affect the guest experience. Although they were initially used to provide a safer, more touchless environment amid stay-at-home and social distancing orders, these digital modifications can also deliver a better, more convenient experience for guests. In addition, they can enable more personalized interactions with customers and empower restaurants with data-driven insights. These advances include:

According to PYMNTS.com and Paytronix data, "The average restaurant customer regularly uses four channels to place food orders,” and they prefer online ordering over phone or in-person orders. In addition, when it comes to loyalty programs, PYMNTS.com and Paytronix also reported that 85% of restaurant loyalty program users “want to interact with their restaurants' loyalty programs using smartphone-enabled methods.” 

A number of restaurants have also adopted self-serve kiosks during the pandemic. McDonald’s, Chili's, Subway and Panera are among the many brands using them.


2. Safety And Compliance

Using technology to control the variables that impact staff and customer safety as well as food safety and quality in the restaurant business is not new. But more than ever before, I'm seeing digital replace "pen and paper" to broadly communicate and track safety and compliance processes, including:

  • Site-based compliance covering regional regulations tailored for each restaurant location, along with access to corporation-wide quality and safety protocols. 
  • Daily employee pre-shift and wellness checks.
  • Sanitation and cleanliness protocols.
  • Food safety and temperature monitoring.
  • Product recalls.
  • Federal and local government mandates.


My company, Cooper-Atkins (temperature monitoring) and Digi (food safety monitoring) operate in this space, along with other companies, and provide everything from comprehensive platforms to point solutions including food safety temperature monitoring, IoT devices and sensor networks.


3. Supply Chain Visibility 

The pandemic created big supply chain interruptions and sourcing challenges that impacted everything from food ingredients to paper and sanitation products. Adding to this challenge were the frequent changes in regional mandates that forced companies to adjust their operations. A number of companies offer solutions that allow restaurants and operators to better visualize and manage supply chain processes to improve:  

  • Inventory management by providing real-time visibility into the supply chain — from the point of purchase through transporting, storing and serving.
  • Quality control through fast and efficient resolution of product quality incidents or product recalls.
  • Supplier management by standardizing the onboarding of new partners, maintaining supplier records and recording quality and compliance data.


My company, along with Mojix and Arrowstream, are among the providers offering these types of solutions to the foodservice industry.


From Crisis To Modernization

The restaurant and food and beverage space has always been riddled with repetitive tasks that need to be completed, monitored and documented, but the onset of Covid-19 elevated risk mitigation to a matter of business survival for many businesses. Few industries responded with greater speed and innovation than restaurants did. 

And even though they’ve achieved so much — so fast — restaurants can still improve on the steps they’ve taken during the pandemic.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from the pandemic is that restaurant customers are leaning into digital innovation more than ever. Restaurants should explore how they can ensure providing a superior guest experience goes hand in hand with providing a more connected digital experience across multiple channels. And beyond the innovations themselves, they should determine how to use the data and insights they gain to better understand their customers and, ultimately, to better serve them. 

Restaurants should use any digital solutions they adopt (and the data they unleash) not only for more informed decision-making and improved operational execution but also for personalizing and sharpening their services in such a way as to build stronger customer loyalty. For example, they could use customer data from mobile orders to add deeper personalization to rewards programs, identify guest preferences to improve omnichannel engagement practices and remove friction from online ordering processes.

Consulting with outside technology experts with industry-specific knowledge is another great option. At the same time, they should continue to consider whether it would be beneficial to replace outdated tools, such as Excel spreadsheets, with new cloud-based tools. 

It’s been heart-wrenching to witness the hardships and losses caused by the pandemic. One thing I've come to appreciate is that restaurants are part of the social and cultural fabric of communities. In the most difficult of times, it has been inspiring to see how they have set an example of agility, innovation and fortitude for others to follow. 


Written by Jim Hardeman - Jim is CMO and CPO for CMX, leading a team dedicated to delivering the best cloud-based Enterprise Quality Management Software available.

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