Consumers are ready for the mobile meal experience, but most restaurants aren't.
At least not yet, according to a study to be released Tuesday by the National Restaurant Association. That, however, may start to seriously change in 2013, says the industry trade group.
An eye-popping 54% of restaurant owners say they'll invest more in technology in 2013. Fact is, they have no choice. Consider: Less than one in 10 table service restaurants currently offer options such as electronic table-side payment or mobile payment.
"Technology has gone to the top of restaurant-owner action lists for 2013," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the trade group.That's because it's what the industry's key demographic, 18- to 34-year-olds, most wants, he says.
The industry knows it must rely upon technology - not just an improving economy - to get it where it needs to go. Even as the trade group projects record annual sales of $660 billion in 2013, that is but a 3.8% increase for an industry that, historically, has posted annual revenue increases above 6%.
"American diners suffer from an extreme case of impatience and have an insatiable need for convenience that only technology can cure," says restaurant industry publicist Derek Farley.
The survey numbers confirm that at table-service restaurants:
- Some 44% of consumers say they would use electronic table-side payment.
- Nearly one-third would use mobile payment.
- Half would use a smartphone app for viewing menus.
Meanwhile, at fast-food restaurants:
- Some 44% say they would use self-order terminals.
- Two in five would use smartphone apps to place orders or view menus.
- More than one in four would use mobile payment.
That's why some savvy restaurant chains are ahead of the tech curve.
At Starbucks, more than 100 million mobile transactions have been logged since the launch of Starbucks' mobile payment app in January 2011, says spokeswoman Lisa Passe.
T.G. I. Friday's ranks among the first casual-dining chains with a smartphone app that lets customers start a tab on an iPhone or Android phone, track it and pay directly from the phone without involving a waiter. "It puts the Friday's experience at the guest's fingertips," says Ricky Richardson, chief operating officer.