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To see the original publication of this article visit QSR Web.
Restaurant vendors give their takes on how quick-service operation is changing and what that means for restaurant leaders.
If we were able to take the basket filled with New Year predictions and shake out some of the top observations for restaurateurs going forward, some things would be "givens." For instance, it's a given that quick-service brands are increasingly embracing contactless service, drive-thrus, ghost kitchens and automation.
But QSRweb wanted to reveal more nuanced observations about what's next for quick-service brands, so we checked in with companies that provide restaurants with everything from operational and compliance software to food products and restaurant design materials.One of those experts was James Gunn-Wilkerson, the COO and CTO of CMX, a La Jolla, California-based restaurant supply chain management and operational execution software company, who had AI on his mind.
"Artificial Intelligence will make a big impact on the efforts to create more sustainable global food supply chains next year," he recently told QSRweb. "Restaurant and grocery brands will be able to leverage AI to forecast based on customer demand, leading to less over-ordering and less food waste to support sustainability initiatives.
He also believes the use cases for AI will expand beyond predictive planning, with brands leveraging it to create incident risk management models to identify trends and challenges in the supply chain to determine whether bad or recalled products originated from a specific supplier, distributor or due to an environmental variable.
"AI will become invaluable at identifying the trends impacting the supply chain and food quality to provide the insight needed to avoid the same incidents from repeating over and over again," he said.
If Gunn-Wilkerson is correct, the many situations the world has experienced with everything from E.coli-tainted lettuce, to parasitic meat contamination might be stopped in its track at or near the source of contamination, potentially saving many lives, as well as many QSR brand reputations.
In fact, technology in general will help food suppliers and restaurant systems prevent such problems before they start in many cases through easier implementation and adherence to food health and safety standards, like the Food Safety Modernization Act and other measures, Gunn-Wilkerson said. As food and safety regulations proliferate, that should provide some assurance to restaurant leaders.
At Miamisburg, Ohio-based restaurant design firm, ChangeUp, Partner and COO Lynn Gonsior, said that her industry contacts appeared to still be getting used to the ever-increasing rate of change in the industry, which she viewed as a central factor moving forward through 2021 and beyond.
As a result, she said the latest materialization in restaurant design or culinary trends or anything else is just that — the latest. To really be successful on today's restaurant playing field, QSR leaders must perpetually be thinking beyond that latest cool thing, and that holds particularly true for restaurant design. That mentality is, itself, a big change in the way brands have "always done things."
"The 10-year prototype is dead," Gonsior said bluntly. "Change is constant. Fervent innovation is critical. We've seen brands explore new offerings, dayparts, and spaces, which has been exciting, and something we should carry into 2021.
"Understanding that yes, we have fleets of restaurants and, yes, capital investment needs to be considered, but what if for a moment we set all the 'buts' aside and did what needs to be done for this paradigm shift and create a roadmap for how to reach this new goal?
"Brands must adopt an experimentation mindset with agile operating models that respond to consumers' desire for fresh, new and local."
Part and parcel to that notion was the restaurant Industry's tendency to "follow the leader," as in, "Oh, our rivals have a new chicken sandwich? Well then, we've got to have one too."
"Restaurants have to move away from the mindset 'because our competitor did X, Y, Z, that's what we have to do,'" Gonsior said. "Everyone has been running the same plays, creating the same stores with different colors. The problem with QSR, everyone's box is about the same size, everyone has a drive-thru, and everyone walks through the same front door."
For instance, Gonsior still believes human Interaction is imperative, only with a different slant that allows technology to serve as a bridge, rather than a divider. Yes, QSRs must be convenient, but in ways that project warmth and community.
The brand-boosting benefits of an open mind
Mobiquity, a Wayne, Pennsylvania-based mobile engagement provider is facing those kinds of challenges around customer communications and bridge-building daily. Chief Creative Officer Mike Welsh said because the company specializes in this area, it might be easy for them to assume that they knew what's best to connect with restaurant customers via technology — period.
But Welsh said that strategy would close their minds off to ideas from those working in restaurants. He also said it was critical for restaurant leaders to essentially, "suspend disbelief" about the ideas that come their way as business solutions, regardless of source.
"It would be easy to make assumptions about what works and what doesn't — but now is not the time to assume. Before you decide that something won't work, be open to trying out new ideas," he told QSRweb. "Suspend the disbelief that certain tactics are fruitless because employing them could be the answer you're actually looking for.
"There (is) a plethora of little changes that QSRs can enact to make it through this challenging time, but they must have an open mind and be willing to try out new ideas long enough to create success. These restaurants already know how to deliver fresh fast food. It doesn't take much effort to go a step further and paint numbers on parking spots to offer curbside pickup or implement personalized offers that encourage customers to come back and try new menu items. … Suspend your disbelief and be willing and open to trying new ideas."
Khaled Naim would, no doubt, agree with that assertion, as well. As CEO and co-founder at San Francisco-based, Onfleet, a last-mile delivery management software provider, he is familiar with the industry's habit of proliferating providers of needed services, like delivery.
As a result, he might be more familiar than many with how top performers get to be at the top, which he believes boils down to the fact that these are businesses that are aware that they are swimming in a sea of options similar to the ones they provide. The difference is that they understand that remaining the novel and preferred choice is a daily battle, not just a one-and-done feat.
"Options will abound," he said "Restaurant and food delivery will continue to become more diverse. The 'Pizza vs Chinese' model is forever gone."
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