Over the past few years, and in the wake of the global pandemic, the restaurant industry has experienced monumental shifts. With new customer expectations, an evolving competitive environment, and access to emerging technologies, restaurants are faced with new challenges and new ways to achieve their goals.
The pandemic changed how diners interact with restaurants – especially quick-service restaurants – and what they expect from their experiences, with an emphasis on convenience and seamless digital experiences. With high inflation rates, those customers are also paying more attention to their spending, making it important for restaurants to evolve their promotions and offerings to better resonate with customers to maintain brand loyalty and wallet share.
At the same time, costs are rising for everything from labor and food to utilities and rent. Restaurants now have higher operating expenses, which requires them to look for new opportunities to drive efficiencies, reduce costs, and optimize operations.
In the current environment, diners want more, competition is fierce, and restaurants must operate at maximum efficiency to survive. Thankfully, while the industry has shifted, new solutions have evolved to address today’s challenges.
Restaurants have access to more data than ever before, which can be collected, processed, and analyzed to better understand customers, operations, and opportunities. With new data and analytics technologies developing at a breakneck speed, there are new tools and techniques available to drive powerful business insight. This includes not just evolutions in data management, governance, and analysis but also new capabilities for exploring vast volumes of data and leveraging generative AI (GAI) and machine learning for deeper insight.
Restaurants see the opportunities these technologies present for automation. Higher costs and consumer expectations have created an environment where restaurants need automation to relax the demands on their workforce and their budget; with the help of analytics and AI, restaurants will be able to achieve those goals through increased automation.
Looking into 2024, these industry challenges and opportunities will align into three core trends shaping the restaurant industry, all of which rely on analytics and AI to understand, automate, and deepen the customer experience.
Trend #1: Automating customer interactions
In the restaurant industry, many think of the future as being marked by robots cooking food and delivering orders or AI interfacing with customers to take their orders.
That future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed. Many restaurants have been experimenting in small numbers with automated order-taking, delivery robots, and chatbots for customer interactions. There are examples across the industry, such as Chipotle’s tortilla chip chef “Chippy” and AI-powered drive-thrus at Hardee’s.
In 2024, we expect to see those small experiments expand. Customers are increasingly tolerant of chatbots and AI as they see and use more AI in their daily lives. The GAI boom in 2022 led by Chat GPT set the stage for a world where people interact with AI every day – and restaurants will be another venue where this is the norm.
While many restaurant giants are already working to automate ordering, customer service, order delivery, and more, getting started is no easy feat. Restaurants that want to maximize their ROI from automation initiatives need to start with a strong foundational data strategy that collects, processes, and stores data in a way that can effectively fuel AI and automation technologies. In addition, building the models that fuel these technologies – like natural language processing (NLP) for automated drive-thrus – requires robust data science and AI capabilities.
As an automation-driven customer experience takes hold in the coming year, these AI and automation skills will be critical for restaurants looking to get ahead of their competition and build automated experiences that deliver on the quality and personalization today’s diners expect.
Trend #2: Deepening customer connection
While restaurants are automating interactions with customers and removing some of the human element, they are simultaneously striving to deepen their connections with diners to build engagement and improve the customer experience.
There are more customer channels than ever before, with data coming from websites, mobile apps, third-party delivery services, point-of-sale (POS) systems, and more. Modern data strategies enable restaurants to harmonize and analyze all those channels and experiences to engage more personally with customers, gather more data about individual customers and their buying patterns, and react in real time to customers’ buying patterns and behaviors.
To delight diners and inspire loyalty, restaurants must deliver personalized journeys and interactions. Evolutions in analytics and data science have created new options for personalization that weren’t available five or 10 years ago, making this possible. However, to personalize interactions and delight customers at scale, restaurants must rely on automating segmentation and personalization and leveraging data from digital apps and loyalty programs.
Automating segmentation and personalization will be a critical way for restaurants to stay competitive and win wallet share in 2024. Deploying customized campaigns, offers, and promotions to the right customer segments at the right times drives customer loyalty and satisfaction, but is nearly impossible to achieve in a cost-effective way without advanced analytics.
Restaurants looking to build deeper customer connections at scale in 2024 will need to start with a modern data strategy, build a comprehensive portfolio of all their potential customer journeys, and use predictive modeling and advanced data science techniques to evaluate what each customer segment is most likely to respond to. These data and analytics investments will enable the strong customer connections and experiences restaurants need to provide to continue growth amid the current market conditions.
Trend #3: Automating customer analytics
Generating accurate, comprehensive customer analytics has always been difficult. It requires harmonizing data from many different systems to create a holistic dataset and then analyzing massive data volumes to get a true understanding of your customer.
With more channels for customer interactions and reviews – including delivery apps, social media platforms, native apps, customer service systems, POS systems, and more – as part of a complex customer journey and large quantities of unstructured data coming from these sources, it’s a monumental undertaking to truly understand and predict your diners’ actions. For these reasons, established customer analytics programs have often been run by dedicated teams, producing findings that aren’t always accessible or intuitive to other business units or non-technical teams.
That standard is in the past. Evolving technologies offer new ways to manage, analyze, and democratize access to customer data. Today, text analytics and NLP can be used to tackle unstructured review and social media data, parsing complicated datasets and using complex co-referencing to distill data into insight.
At the same time, GAI has changed the way individual users can interact with data, providing opportunities to analyze large datasets through written prompts. GAI is also a critical tool for democratizing customer analytics, as business intelligence tools like Amazon QuickSight are using GAI to enable self-service reporting by allowing users to generate custom visualizations using written prompts.
With these new tools, restaurants will be able to generate customer analytics faster and more accurately and distribute those analytics across the business in user-friendly ways that can make non-technical team members into analytics super-users. The demand for data-driven decision-making continues to grow, and opportunities for automation in customer analytics will put the necessary data in decision-makers’ hands when and how they need it in 2024.
Restaurant data, analytics, and AI strategies for 2024
Entering the new year, the restaurant industry is at a crucial point where modern demands and technologies are both requiring and facilitating increased automation across the customer journey. Leveraging customer data as part of these automation and AI strategies will allow many restaurants to meet the demands of today’s diners through smart, targeted investments.
Where should your restaurant start? At Wavicle, we know the value of a strong partner to ensure you have the right data strategy in place to support your automation goals. Restaurant data experts can help you set your team up for success with a strong data foundation, implementation expertise for leveraging new tools and technologies, and guidance every step of the way on how to reach your goals and satisfy your diners.
Get started by reaching out to our restaurant data analytics team.