Digital sales will make up more than half, or 54 percent, of all quick-service and limited-service restaurant sales by 2025, according to new survey numbers from market research firm Incisiv. That’s 70 percent higher than pre-COVID estimates, the firm notes.
That projected growth isn’t hard to understand. It’s been an all-out dumpster-fire of a year for restaurants, with hundreds of thousands of restaurants permanently shuttered and billions of dollars already lost. Currently, restaurants across the country are reverting to off-premises-only models, which lend themselves more to minimal interactions between restaurant staff and customers.
But as we saw early on in the pandemic, even limited/quick service restaurants struggled to manage the sudden influx of takeout, curbside pickup, drive-thru, and delivery order channels. Bigger brands with money to burn and existing digital strategies have obviously fared better over the last eight months than those without many tech investments in place. As of July, Chipotle had increased its digital sales by over 200 percent thanks to the brand’s pre-COVID focus in that area. Another example is Starbucks, which as publicly said 80 percent of its orders before the pandemic were already for to-go channels.
Separately, Incisiv notes that while restaurant chains are making investments in tech, they are “not necessarily addressing the highest priorities nor the solutions that will deliver the best maximum ROI across diverse customer expectations.”
It’s a point we make all the time here at The Spoon. There are seemingly endless options for businesses when it comes to tech, but they’re not all equal in terms of the value they provide to a businesses trying to serve customers quickly, safely, and with the same quality they would get in the dining room. For example, the so-called “contactless” kits that address the in-dining room experience may become a staple of the future, but they can’t exactly add value when dining rooms are shut down. On the other hand, focusing tech investments on tools that will make digital ordering and fulfillment easier and cheaper should be a priority. To that end, Incisiv’s report urges restaurants to “make enhancements in digital tech.” Those that do, according to the report, “will be better positioned should another shutdown occur.” Which, if you hadn’t noticed, is happening as we speak.
As noted above some of the bigger QSR brands are clearly leading the charge when it comes to digital sales trends, but Incisiv says there is plenty of area for both growth and improvement. Customer satisfaction actually remains low in a few key areas. Only 40 percent of survey respondents were satisified with their pickup experience; that number drops to 25 percent for delivery. Half of guests prefer paying with a mobile wallet, but fewer than 20 percent of QSRs provide expanded payment options.
The survey found that “close to 70 percent” of restaurant chains have “stated their intent” to increase investments in mobile ordering. Over the long term, digital sales are expected to dip slightly once in-dining room service is resumed with some semblance of its former days. However, the return of the dining room won’t mean the end of off-premises, not if recent developments around condensed store formats and expanded drive-thru lanes are any indication. Incisiv also notes that share of delivery sales is expected to grow 23 percent by 2025 versus a pre-COVID forecast of 15 percent.
As the report notes, if all of this holds true, it will be QSR chains making the most progress in terms of digital ordering and setting the example for the rest of the industry.