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Fast Food Industry Trends: What's Next for Fast Food in 2018?

Posted by Ellen Cunningham on 9/11/17 5:00 PM in Industry News & Trends, Restaurant Technology

3 minute read

fast food industry trends

There’s no doubt that the restaurant business is constantly evolving, and that’s true for fast food establishments as well.

We’re starting to see higher adoption of faster payment methods – such as contactless and in-app payments – as well as a blurring of the line between fast food and fast casual. Additionally, automation is ramping up in some locations, with more chains testing self-order kiosks.

Let's see what trends are impacting the fast food industry and what that could mean for your restaurant. 

Faster Payment Methods

In fast food, getting the customer in and out quickly is key. That’s why many locations have implemented NFC (contactless) technologies, allowing customers to simply “tap” their phone or device to a compatible terminal. Other restaurants, like Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, and Burger King, offer apps for smartphones so customers can pay right through their phone. Some apps can even securely store customers’ card details for quick future ordering and payment.

fast food industry news

For fast food restaurants - and all restaurants - this means a speedier process at the cash register. No swiping, no receipt, no making change - just tap & go. 

Pay in Advance

Takeout and delivery-based fast food restaurants can benefit from implementing systems that allow customers to pay when they place their order instead of when they pick it up.

Whether you enable phone ordering, online ordering, or in-app ordering, accepting payment by card at the time of order means that when customers come to pick up their food, they’re in and out more quickly. If the order is for delivery, pre-payment means less staff time spent per delivery and less cash carried around outside the restaurant.

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It may even lead to more or larger sales. The Motley Fool reports that Papa John’s has seen an increase in ordering both online and by smartphone that has resulted in customers purchasing more often and spending more per order. The article further reports that Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s all receive about 40% of their sales from digital sources.

Fast Food and Fast Casual Collide

Fast food and fast casual both focus on providing quicker meals than a sit-down restaurant, but fast casual is typically not quite as speedy as fast food.

This has started shifting, thanks to developments such as Panera drive-through. A few years ago, Panera tested drive-through at some of its locations, blurring the line between fast food and fast casual even further. While the company hasn’t rolled out drive-through nationwide, it’s shown that some customers do prefer the convenience of drive-through even at locations that aren’t traditionally fast food.

Additionally, many fast casual chains have started offering combo or value meals, providing pre-set choices that can help speed up customer ordering times. While combo meals at fast casual typically aren’t as low cost as value meals at fast food restaurants, the ability to simply order “one” item (the combo meal) can reduce staff time entering the order.

Fast Food Industry Trends

On the flip side, fast food has responded to fast casual’s encroachment by offering foods once thought of as more fast casual fare. Artisan sandwiches, salads with specialty toppings, and fresh baked muffins or other pastries are now popping up at fast food joints that traditionally serve burgers and fries. Doughnut shops like Dunkin’ Donuts have expanded into offering wraps, cold cuts on bagels, and other lunch items not typically associated with fast food doughnut shops.

Automation in Fast Food

In an article earlier this year, I covered the pros and cons of fast food kiosks. Since then, more fast food CEOs have spoken openly about the likelihood of automation changing the industry in the coming years.

Fast Food Industry Trends

Yum Brands CEO predicts that automation could be commonplace in the mid-2020s, and had already implemented kiosks in some of its locations around the world. Wendy’s plans to add self-serve kiosks to 1,000 of its restaurants by the end of 2017.

As technology continues to evolve and prices for that new technology continue to drop, expect to see greater use of automated tools like self-order kiosks in fast food establishments.

Which  fast food industry trend are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by: Ellen Cunningham

Ellen loves words, and enjoys the challenge of bringing clarity to complex topics. She uses her writing skills to help educate people about credit card processing as the Marketing Manager for CardFellow, a marketplace where processors compete for businesses. When she’s not helping companies get the best processing solutions, she can be found hanging from a trapeze in aerial circus classes, cycling the beautiful trails in western Massachusetts, or trying new recipes in her kitchen.


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