The fast casual industry has boomed over the last decade as consumers are increasingly looking for quick, inexpensive and delicious dining options. Although the pace of fast casual restaurants may be slowing slightly this year, it looks like the industry is definitely here to stay.
The last boom understandably occurred during the recession when people were strapped for money. But now, in today’s always-on culture, consumers have become used to instant gratification and results. Couple this with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to see why the fast-casual industry has experienced another boom.
The pandemic was responsible for local lockdowns, business closures and social distancing laws, and the hospitality industry was one of the most affected by the crisis. Fortunately, thanks to technology and the ability to offer takeaway options, lots of fast-casual restaurants were able to survive—even thrive—during 2020.
That said, there are some fast-casual trends that businesses need to look out for in 2022 if they want this success to continue. We are going to look at these trends in more detail.
Technology and automation are slowly permeating every industry and every aspect of the business world. However, 2020 was the year that we saw digital transformation accelerate thanks to the pandemic. Restaurants were forced to improve on their current digital ordering options, and that’s if they already had one! If not, they had to quickly create and launch these solutions in order to keep orders flowing.
Digital ordering will remain a huge trend in the fast casual sector in 2022, but businesses need to be aware that there is more they can do with these solutions if they hope to stand out.
Brands that can differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering a more intuitive and seamless ordering experience for their customers are going to perform the best in the coming year. This means using self-service kiosks and mobile ordering and taking these one step further to offer the best possible customer experience.
Part of creating the seamless customer experience is providing an omnichannel approach that integrates all the key elements of the dining experience, such as ordering, communication and loyalty. And this looks set to be a big trend in 2022.
But what is an omnichannel approach when it comes to the fast casual industry, and how can businesses make it work for them?
In a nutshell, an omnichannel experience is made up of different touchpoints over different channels, but these all link seamlessly together so customers can easily pick up where they left off.
For fast-food restaurants, this could mean creating an app where they can place, chase and review their orders. It could also mean ensuring they receive loyalty points or incentives, no matter what channel they use to make a purchase.
Essentially, if you allow customers to order food through your website, Facebook page, app, etc., you need to make sure these platforms are consistent and integrated. It doesn’t matter where they order or communicate with you. With an omnichannel set up, customers can easily receive rewards, discounts, and communications in a seamless way.
When it comes to creating the best possible customer experience, an omnichannel approach could make or break your business in 2022.
As we’ve already mentioned, technology is advancing fast, and it has opened businesses up to a whole new world of possibilities in recent years. The problem is, lots of brands have felt pressured to implement new and fancy tools without giving enough thought to how these will actually impact the customer experience—particularly as a result of the pandemic, when lots of new apps, QR codes and delivery options have quickly been launched.
No matter your tech stack, you need to make sure you fully embrace customer-centricity in 2022, especially if you hope to stand out from other fast casual brands. Essentially what we’re saying here is that you need to think about the customer and their experience before implementing any new technology. Consider whether it will have a genuinely positive impact on their experience or if you’re just throwing out new technologies and systems for the sake of it.
One of your greatest resources for checking your technological impact on customer experience is customer data and feedback. Have your customers been asking for something specific? If so, 2022 is the year to implement these changes. If, however, you’re just feeling the pressure to make everything a bit more technical, try to resist, as you could actually be doing more harm than good.
With a growing number of fast-casual dining options appearing every day, the competition to be the best is only getting tougher. As such, one of the biggest trends for 2022 is going to be supersizing your loyalty and building a dedicated base of return customers.
If you aren’t doing anything to thank or reward loyal customers, you need to make a change! Creating an enjoyable and easy customer experience is the first important step, but after this, you need to take it further.
Consider offering tailored discounts or loyalty points each time a customer orders with you. It’s also a good idea to connect with customers regularly to make sure they have you in mind when ordering food. You can do this through marketing tools such as in-app messaging, SMS alerts, email messages and web notifications.
No matter how you connect with your customers, creating a loyal base is crucial in 2022.
Finally, during the pandemic, lots of fast-casual businesses had to turn to third-party delivery aggregators in order to offer takeaway options for their customers. However, as things begin to return to some sort of normal, bringing back in-house, (native) delivery is going to be important for saving money, even if this is the first time you’ve offered a delivery service natively.
This could mean hiring dedicated drivers for your business so you can continue to offer these delivery options. But by retaking control of your off-premises operations via native delivery, you can retain valuable customers whilst cutting costs and saving money.
Just be sure that you continue to offer delivery options where possible, as today’s consumers have become accustomed to getting their favorite foods brought straight to their front door (particularly in the era of UberEats and Deliveroo).
Stuart Cooke is the Blog Editor at Irish Parcels, a courier comparison service that helps businesses find the best shipping solutions.