According to a recent analysis by Square, major shifts in customer behavior are on the horizon that will impact the restaurant industry. Their report provides key insights into how consumers will likely order, pay for, and experience dining out in 2024. By anticipating these trends now, you can make strategic decisions. This will help you adapt your operations, invest in the right technologies, and implement new strategies. The goal is to meet customers’ needs and capture more of the market in the coming years.
The following highlights from Square’s report provide a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of restaurants and what you must do to prepare your business for success.
Loyalty Programs Are Key for Restaurants in 2024
According to Square’s report, over 75% of diners want loyalty programs that offer exclusive deals and discounts, especially younger generations like millennials and Gen Z. Square sellers that implement loyalty programs see a 40% increase in customer visits.
Loyalty programs are an effective way for restaurants to reward customers and encourage repeat business. The majority of survey respondents said the top three benefits they look for in a restaurant loyalty program are:
- Earning free food or products
- Daily discounts
- Rewards around special events like birthdays and holidays
Now is the ideal time for restaurants to start a loyalty program as the market is currently underserved—68% of diners belong to two or fewer restaurant loyalty programs and 31% don’t belong to any.
Customers are open to providing personal information when signing up for loyalty programs with the expectation it will allow restaurants to serve them better. Serving customers better means providing high-value incentives and personalized rewards.
With a mobile app that Per Diem offers, restaurants can implement customized Square loyalty programs with just a few taps to boost customer retention and frequent visits.
Experiential Dining Is the Future
According to the report, over half of the consumers expressed interest in engaging, non-traditional dining experiences at their local eateries. New offerings such as cooking classes, live music performances, tasting events, and game nights ranked higher among younger diners, with 80% of Gen Z and 60% of Millennials expressing appeal for such experiences.
As competition intensifies in the food industry, unique experiences can help differentiate a brand and build loyalty. Integrating experiences into a business model also provides a chance to diversify revenue streams beyond daily operations. However, balancing convenience and human interaction remains key. While interest in QR code menus and touchscreen ordering is climbing, 79% of diners still value receiving a physical menu during their meal.
Tasting events, live music, and cooking classes ranked as the most sought-after experiences. Restaurateurs looking to test experiential dining may want to start with a weekly or monthly event incorporating one of these options. A “Tasting Tuesday” featuring special menu items or wine pairings, a “Live Music Friday” with local musicians, or a biweekly cooking class are all easy ways to asses interest before investing heavily.
Sustainability and social responsibility are also influencing dining choices. Spotlighting responsible business practices, local sourcing, and community outreach in marketing and events helps attract and retain these consumers. Highlighting values beyond the dining experience itself establishes trust and rapport, strengthening the customer-brand relationship in the long run.
While new technologies streamline operations, the human experience remains essential to customer satisfaction in restaurants. Finding the right balance of efficiency and personal connection is key to building a loyal customer base and thriving business.
Emerging Tech Creates a New Dining Reality
The report indicates that cutting-edge technology will offer restaurants a new dining reality to enhance customer experience. 87% of consumers who have tried augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) dining would do it again. This indicates that patrons are open to technological innovations in restaurants, such as facial recognition menus, artificial intelligence chatbots, and more.
Restaurateurs looking to future-proof their business should consider integrating applications, touchscreen kiosks, AR or VR, and back-of-house automation. While technology optimizes convenience, the human experience remains essential. A balance of the two is key.
Balance Digital Convenience With Human Connection
Restaurants should optimize operations by embracing technology that streamlines the customer experience, while also prioritizing high-touch human interactions. According to Square’s report, 79% of diners agree that receiving a physical menu is an important part of dining in. However, 44% said they like using QR codes to view digital menus, and 39% find it more convenient than asking staff for a physical menu.
Restaurateurs should consider a hybrid approach. They can deploy self-service kiosks, online ordering, and contactless payments to minimize wait times and maximize convenience, especially for takeout and fast-casual environments. At the same time, they should train staff to engage customers with a personal touch during the in-person experience. For example, servers can continue to distribute physical menus and take orders at the table, while also accepting digital orders and payments.
The level of tech integration depends on the restaurant segment. Casual and upscale establishments may focus more on table service and personal interaction, while fast food and quick-service venues can optimize for digital convenience and self-service. Either way, a balance of efficiency and hospitality is key. As younger generations come to value both seamless technology and meaningful human connections, restaurateurs who master this balance will be poised for loyalty and success.
As the old saying goes, the only constant is change. While the restaurant industry has faced immense challenges in recent years, this Square analysis provides reason for optimism. Their data-driven insights point to several major shifts in consumer behavior that present opportunities for growth if you can adapt. The trends toward convenience, community, and conscious consumption are here to stay. By investing in technology that streamlines the ordering and payment experience, building genuine connections with your loyal customers, and sourcing high-quality, sustainable ingredients, you'll be well-positioned to thrive in 2024 and beyond.