Lessons learned during the pandemic are pushing quick-service restaurant chains to implement new technology-supported strategies.

If any industry bore the biggest brunt of lockdown measures in 2020, it was the food-and-beverage (F&B) sector. The events of last year saw restaurants of all sizes, from fine dining to quick-service restaurants (QSRs) adopting digital tools like never before.

Many pivoted towards takeaway and delivery, which proved to be more resilient than dine-in demand.

However, in spite of the hit they endured in the early days of lockdowns and restrictions, restaurants have emerged from the pandemic with valuable learning experiences that are helping them improve efficiency, enhance customer service and economize.

A year on, let us take a look at what they must do to ensure future success, maintain, or boost business resilience, and meet new customer expectations. The following four rising trends encompass lessons learned from the pandemic that can help the sector optimize operations and drive continued digital transformation:

  1. Omnichannel payments
    Many restaurants chose to adopt contactless payment options as many cautious customers preferred using contactless payment methods like QR codes or digital payments apps.

    Yet it is worth noting that cash and credit/debit are not fully going away, either. There is a growing consumer desire for delivery and buy-online, pickup in store (BOPIS), both of which also offer a contactless experience as long as merchants offer the ability to order and pay via mobile app and website.

    Furthermore, customers want more options for not just how they pay, but also where. Ordering at outdoor terminals and self-service kiosks is becoming more popular. This means restaurant chains will need infrastructure in place that allows them to securely accept and process payments from a variety of locations.
  2. IoT in the Kitchen
    Many food equipment manufacturers offer kitchen units that connect to smart devices via the Internet.

    Smart kitchen devices can track a variety of cooking and equipment data, ‘talk’ to each other with minimal human intervention, and connect to management and POS systems. They can trigger alerts for preventive equipment maintenance or repairs, more accurately manage inventory and stock, streamline food preparation, and more.

    To create efficiencies and reduce costs, more restaurants may begin to invest in such connected equipment.
  3. Cloud kitchens 
    ‘Cloud’ or ‘satellite’ kitchens allow restaurant chains to prepare delivery orders away from individual stores. They can rent cooking space in a centralized location to serve customers in other locations. This helps each location reduce costs on utilities, equipment operations, staff and more, and provide takeout and delivery service without opening a storefront.

    While the pandemic has made F&B players rethink their expansion plans, many that now operate in cloud kitchens have one goal in mind—they are all looking to save money while streamlining the delivery experience.

Simplifying the complexities

What is the common theme among all of these trends? They add more complexity to a restaurant chain’s operation, and they need more from the restaurant’s network.

For a restaurant chain to implement the technologies needed to capitalize on these trends, it needs an agile, modernized communications network with the security that supports and enhances new digital transformation requirements.

While traditional MPLS or other legacy networks can work, one option that was born out of the need for greater flexibility and resilience is the software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). With the right SD-WAN, restaurant chains can gain a range of benefits, including:

  1. Better network performance: SD-WAN can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, so a business can support new digital strategies that require connectivity while also prioritizing business-critical applications like payments. 
  2. Scalability: An integrated SD-WAN solution allows F&B businesses to dynamically scale bandwidth capacity, including across different locations, based on specific requirements via advanced networking functionality.
  3. Reduced costs: Replacing low-bandwidth, high-cost MPLS or traditional WANs with broadband connections can lower costs while adding the bandwidth needed to support new digital use cases. 
  4. Greater agility in the face of change: By layering SD-WAN over broadband connectivity, everything can be connected at the network level: multiple stores, the cloud, a corporate headquarters, and data centers. Once the network is properly deployed and configured, provisioning and securely connecting new locations (including ghost kitchens and pop-ups) can be done in days instead of weeks, giving businesses the flexibility and agility to quickly pivot as needed.
  5. Improved network security: SD-WANs allow a unified security solution to be deployed and managed across all locations and devices within a brand’s environment. An option that provides a higher level of security is a fully managed SD-WAN. In this scenario, a provider actively monitors threats and keeps an eye on network peripherals—all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them—which removes the onus of network management and security from a QSR.
  6. Secure, compliant digital payments: Some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements, allowing QSRs to securely connect all types of payments options and protect customers’ card data.

The DX benefits are perennial

The challenges resulting from the pandemic will continue to impact QSRs long after the world finally gets the virus under control. Yet the events of the recent past have also revealed important lessons about what strategies and technologies support business resilience and drive digital transformation, as well as where a store might need to invest more time, thought and money.

While trends may come and trends may go, a technology infrastructure that allows a business to become more agile and adaptable, and scale up and down as needed, will help with long-term survival and drive growth—even in a volatile environment.