As the third surge of the pandemic is upon us, restaurants and guests are experiencing COVID fatigue as they try to make decisions surrounding dining. Restaurateurs are navigating what is permissible and preferred when it comes to dining formats and operations. Businesses have bravely taken all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of their patrons, from checking temperatures to vigilant cleaning to social distancing. Customers will decide how they will dine in 2021, but restaurants can influence that decision through the actions they take in the new year.

What Problems Are Restaurants Facing Amid the Pandemic?

It’s difficult for restaurateurs to plan for the future when nobody knows what it holds. Restaurants are especially vulnerable to reimposed restrictions, and many are further challenged by being backed into a corner if they can’t offer outdoor seating. It seems that just as businesses were about to get back on their feet, the pandemic worsened and state governments are now waving the magic wand… again.

The good news is these circumstances are not the be-all end-all. Restaurant owners can’t control the virus, but they get to decide how they respond to it. As leaders in this industry, we recommend that they adapt in the face of uncertainty by focusing on off-premise ordering, embracing alternative service channels, and deploying innovative technologies. What restaurant trends can we expect in 2021 that work to solve the problems that these businesses are facing?

Trends Set to Meet Restaurant Challenges in 2021

1. Personalization

Whether it’s at the drive thru or via dine-in, restaurants that are poised to thrive in the next normal will embrace personalization. Guests want to feel valued, and when service is tailored to their preferences, they are more likely to become a repeat customer. Creating guest profiles to account for preferences and dietary requirements is a great way to ensure customers get the most out of their experience. This not only delights guests, but also provides upselling opportunities and data to run targeted promotional campaigns which increase loyalty. Since consumers are quickly undergoing a digital transformation, restaurants should meet them on devices.

2. Curbside

Curbside service became an essential element of operations this year and will be an important restaurant trend in 2021. This channel is of enormous value to guests, who enjoy the convenience of grab and go without the need to go inside the restaurant. Since consumers are now comfortable with and accustomed to curbside, it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. To keep curbside available ongoingly, dining establishments will need a work around that streamlines operations or provides a designated pickup area. Walkup window, anyone?

3. QR Codes

QR codes have been around for some time, but restaurants have found them a staple to a safe guest experience this year. Contactless technology speeds up service, reduces the need for labor, promotes social distancing, and limits social contact. It is the key to giving guests and staff confidence in the safety of the dining experience. While some solutions only offer menu viewability, other software providers enable order and payment through QR code technology as well. Customers enjoy the benefit of a streamlined experience via their mobile phone without the extra step of downloading an app. QR codes are becoming a necessary tool for restaurants that guests will be happy to see carried into 2021 and beyond.

4. AI

Artificial intelligence is dominating the restaurant industry, from customers voice ordering pizza to managers analyzing customer behavior. Kiosks and computer vision are two manifestations of this restaurant trend. Kiosks provide the kind of personalization that customers used to only get by waiting in line at a coffee shop; it allows restaurants to recognize repeat customers and makes suggestions to customers based off of past orders so they can make the best order decision possible. Computer vision technology analyzes real-time behavior of staff and guests and alert managers of ways they can optimize operations.

5. Geofencing Technology

Geofencing has long been a marketing buzzword, and for good reason. The technology has been especially useful in alerting retail passersby of sales and promotions; now, it is highly relevant in the restaurant industry on the business side as well. Restaurants can leverage geofencing for curbside to enable alerts so they are immediately informed when a customer pulls up. Panera Bread is using this technology to optimize operations; when customers enter their vehicle information online for curbside, they can opt into geofencing for faster service rather than the clunky alternative of notifying their arrival via an app.

The Presto Solution

As a leader in the industry, Presto draws on decades of experience to make these restaurant trends predictions for 2021. During a time when planning for the future is especially difficult, Presto empowers restaurants to adapt and thrive through optimizing takeout, offering compatibility with several service channels, and deploying powerful solutions. The company helps restaurants go contactless by providing QR code technology that cuts labor costs, speeds up service, and provides a safe experience for guests and staff. Presto Contactless improves overall store operations and maximizes revenue so that restaurants can thrive during all the highs and lows of the pandemic and well into the future.