The Digital Future of QSR


Google tells us that the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) international market size in 2019 peaked at $868 billion USD. With lockdowns taking place globally, the pandemic cut the market down to $736 billion USD in 2020. Exiting 2021 the global forecast for the market is that it will reach $798 billion USD (Google, Nov2021). Going forward, Research and Markets expects the global fast food and QSR market to continue growing at 5.1% annually (CAGR) from 2021-2026 (Research and Markets, Oct2021).

As the QSR, fast-casual, and overall restaurant industry rebounds from the crisis, with growth for the foreseeable future, the question of how the industry will change, is top of mind. It's not so much the changes in drive-thrus, socially distanced on-premise dining experiences or growth in plant-based menu items. Although these are important, a broader-based overall change is that the whole experience is turning digital. Yes, the future of QSR is the digital online order.

Already Here

The future of QSR isn't necessarily conveyor belts, robotic arms flipping burgers, and mechanical waiters and waitresses (although, these are definitely in the mix). Rather, we are already seeing the bigger change around us. Various QSRs, such as Burger King, McDonald's, and A&W are already setting the digital norm. Mobile apps for ordering, QR codes to view your menu, and the full contactless experience is already here. And, it isn't exclusive to QSR, as fast-casual, and traditional restaurant businesses are also in a race to convert.

Catching Up

Our entire shift to digitizing the restaurant industry was already underway, pre-pandemic. However, the crisis accelerated the movement. It drove chains to quickly consider their options, capture new clients, and keep existing ones.

But not everyone is there yet. Although many chains have digitized their orders—either going online or taking orders through mobile (apps or responsive design)—many chains are still working out their strategy. Time is pressing, as the future of QSR is online—and mobile. It is not too late to steer your organization in this direction, but there must be a clear understanding that you need to move quickly to catch up.

Quick Starts

An article in QSR Magazine referred to it as: now is the time to digitize or die. In that light, there are many options to accelerate your plans. Consider the fastest way to develop your online digital ordering capabilities—the Quick Start QSR packages available on the Salesforce Commerce Cloud (ecommerce) platform. As an example, the OSF Digital version provides a robust QSR digital solution for online and mobile orders. Best of all, it gets your business operating within 4 weeks flat. When you are playing catch up or fixing older systems, being able to start taking orders within a month—on perhaps the most stable and robust system for ecommerce—is astounding.

Can You Piggyback?

With the meteoric rise of food delivery services, such as Doordash, UberEats, Skip-the-Dishes, GrubHub, and others, it is tempting to consider a pure partnership with these organizations for your digital strategy. Although interesting, it isn't a full solution that larger chains should consider. Yes, this partnership may work well for small chains and mom & pop restaurant services, but they won't work for medium to large restaurant chains.

As an example, DoorDash recently introduced search-page ads for restaurants (WSJ, Oct2021). Given the random nature of QSR consumers, attention spans are often only as long as the time between ads. Setting up a bidding system for ad placement (not unlike Google Ads) is a smart digital move. However, it does not help the prospects of any particular restaurant chain. It means that partnering with a third-party delivery service, while good for expanding your reach and outsourcing fulfillment, also must be done carefully. If you become fully dependent on the food delivery firm, then your chain also becomes susceptible to the competition that a site like DoorDash brings to your digital consumers. In this regard, catching up means owning your digital ordering system for consumers to use. This puts control back in your domain.

Not Just About Apps

Making sure that your digital QSR solution is always accessible on mobile has often been perceived as an app. But keep in mind that many consumers are now experiencing App Fatigue.

App Fatigue occurs when customers are no longer keen to download and use another new app on their mobile device. Consumers are becoming increasingly irritated that every brand has its own app. Downloading so many different retailer, service provider, and restaurant apps starts to clutter your smartphone.

Not only does app clutter make it difficult to find the app that you want, there is also a learning curve and the resource drain on your device.

Again, this points to making sure that your digital solution is not solely dependent on developing a mobile app that customers must download and learn to use, before placing an order. Make it easy for them. Make your online (web) order system the same as is available for their mobile phone. A well-built responsive design system solves this challenge. With one single consistent platform, you get both laptop/computer online orders and mobile orders.

Even if you are intent on developing a mobile app for your QSR business, make sure that your online order system (web) is fully responsive in design, ensuring that you don't lose customers who refuse to install yet another app on their device.

Customizing to Local Franchisees

Personalization isn't just a nice-to-have for your consumers. Consider that when running a franchise chain, the future of QSR is about customizing to local tastes. When digitizing, make that sure your system allows you to customize special menu items for different geographies and franchisees. This allows you to maintain control of the standard menu, while also adjusting for certain territories, providing the best of both worlds.

The Future of QSR is Digital

Although many restaurant chains already have digitized their processes, many more have room to grow. Simply put, restaurants cannot continue to play a frantic game of tech catch-up with their competitors. It isn't about leapfrogging each other, time after time. The pandemic was the wake-up call that shook the industry into realizing that the future of QSR truly is digital. Our call to action now is for quick-serve restaurants to reach out to a QSR digital solution provider, and to plan out what a fully digital QSR system looks like. It isn't just an important step—it is a critical step for your QSR future.

Charles Dimov

Author: Charles Dimov, VP of Product Solutions

Charles brings more than 20 years of experience in marketing, sales, product development, and management. With depth and breadth in varied markets, he drives the right go-to-market and demand generation strategies for OSF’s core products. A lifelong learner, he graduated from the University of Waterloo with degrees in management, business economics, and engineering. Charles also holds several certifications in leadership and marketing.