Trends & best practices

QSR Digital Transformation: 10 Quick Service Restaurant Trends for 2021

February 9, 2021 By: Alex Torres

When Covid-19 upended the US restaurant industry in March 2020, quick service restaurants (or QSRs) were hit especially hard. Now, restaurant industry leaders can’t stop thinking about QSR digital transformation, or how quick service restaurants are adapting to our new digital-first world. 

And for good reason.

As of February 2021, restaurants and cafes are still empty, sales are declining, and stores are closing. According to a recent McKinsey report, US consumers are expected to spend significantly less money eating out in 2021.

Despite these changes, customers are still interested in takeout, delivery, drive-thrus, and outdoor dining experiences. Third-party food sales offered by apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub have soared since the pandemic started. 

The pandemic has prompted consumers to spend more money on food delivery, takeout, prepared food, and groceries, trends that we expect to continue even after the pandemic ends. Experts also suspect that some diners will be cautious of eating in crowded places for quite some time, even after vaccines are rolled out.

This means that QSRs must begin preparing for a digital-first future, where “order ahead” and other mobile order experiences will be far more important than they were before the pandemic.  

How QSRs are Responding to the Pandemic 

QSRs that rely heavily on brick-and-mortar restaurants tend to have limited loyalty programs (like value and family meal promotions), legacy platforms, and minimal presence on digital and delivery channels. Other struggling QSRs don’t differentiate themselves enough from key competitors, a common problem in industries like financial services.

But struggling QSRs still have ample opportunities to stand out among the crowd. Thanks to the pandemic, QSR customers are looking for 2 qualities in particular when dining out: 

  1. Contactless, frictionless experiences.
  2. The ability to place online orders in advance.

90% of customers say they don’t want to wait longer than 10 minutes for food ordered via mobile apps. And in the QSR world, every second counts. 

The best mobile apps offered by QSRs allow for streamlined curbside pickups, mobile order-ahead, and cashier-less, in-store checkouts. Both retailers and customers save time and moneya win-win for all. 

The good news? Mobile “order ahead for pickup” was growing in popularity faster than delivery, even before the pandemic. This means that customers were already starting to notice the benefits of ordering ahead with their mobile devices. 

Benefits of Online and In-App Ordering for QSRs

Quick service restaurants can boost sales, foster brand loyalty, and drive revenue by investing in standout mobile ordering experiences.

Some advantages of mobile ordering for QSRs include:

    • Faster transactions
    • Higher average order prices
    • The ability to display the most popular menu options front and center
    • Showing items based on previous orders
    • Greater customization and personalization
    • Prompt, efficient service
    • Upselling
    • Increased brand loyalty for apps with a standout user experience
    • Serving more customers during peak meal times
    • No long lines, even during the lunch and dinner rushes

Mobile apps can also integrate with wayfinding or geolocation technology, as well as inventory management systems tools. 

How the digital-first mentality will impact QSRs and their digital transformation

The digital-first boom and the impact of Covid-19 will have a ripple effect on how QSRs operate for years to come. 

Here’s a look at other changes that you can expect over the next few years with the QSR digital transformation.

  1. Quick service restaurants like McDonalds and Subway will continue to change their menus to accommodate for supply chain disruptions and changing customer demand, especially for delivery menuswhat people order for in-person dining often varies from what they order for delivery. Menu changes can help simplify kitchen operations as well. 
  2. Speaking of supply chain disruptions, QSRs will continue to track day-to-day operating costs, along with food package options, disposable paper goods like napkins, cleaning products, and even spare car parts (for QSRs investing in delivery).
  3. Tracking day-to-day operating costs and food-packaging costs will continue to be important. For instance, oil and chicken are historically cheap right now, so QSRs looking to save money can balance their budgets by sweeping up historically low deals.
  4. As in-person eating options dwindle, quick service restaurants are doubling down on their digital channels to handle increases in demand. QSRs are investing ample resources to improve online ordering experiences on mobile apps and websites. 
  5. As part of the QSR digital transformation, more restaurants are partnering with call centers, delivery aggregators, and other third-party services to accommodate surges in demand. 
  6. The pandemic has prompted customers to become more concerned with safety and health risks, so QSR marketing teams should ensure that hygiene, safety, and a we-are-all-in-this-together attitude is empathized across all digital channels. 
  7. There’s a good chance that QSRs will start investing more resources in delivery drones & robots.
  8. Kiosk ordering, which is already popular in European cities, airports, train stations, and elsewhere, will continue to become more important in the United States. 
  9. As delivery, drive thrus, and takeout become more important, restaurants will be redesigned with less square footage. 
  10. Burger King is planning to launch a mobile app feature in Miami and Latin America that allows customers to scan a QR code and have food brought to their cars. Other QSRs may also follow suit.

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