The National Restaurant Association released new research during its second annual Restaurant Innovation Summit that shows overall technology use in restaurants is increasing. More than a third of consumers say they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than two years ago. In addition, a significant number use their smartphones to interact with restaurants on a regular basis, such as ordering delivery, redeeming rewards and paying for meals.
"While overall usage of restaurant technology options is still more common among diners in the Millennial generation compared with Baby Boomers, the age gap generally levels out when it comes to frequent users," said Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of Research for the National Restaurant Association. "As restaurants integrate more customer-facing technology, usage among consumers is growing. When done right, it can help a restaurant's productivity and the customer experience.
"However, it's important to note that a substantial number of consumers say they still prefer to deal with restaurant staff, underscoring that this is still an industry of hospitality where the human factor will always be paramount."
Overall, 70 percent of consumers say they own or regularly use a smartphone or tablet computer. Usage and ownership is common among younger consumers at 90 percent of 18-34-year-olds and 89 percent of 35-44-year-olds.
Among those consumers, one-third (32 percent) said they would use a smartphone app to pay their check instead of using cash or debit/credit card if offered.
The NRA asked consumers who said they are not using technology options more often why they aren't using them more. Half of consumers said it is simply because they prefer dealing with people. This is particularly notable among younger consumers, where 61 percent of 18-34-year-olds gave this as a reason, while only 42 percent of those 65+ agreed.
In addition, fifteen percent say they don't use these options more often because they don't know how, 12 percent say the restaurants they typically patronize don't offer those options, and five percent say they don't use tech options because they don't trust them to work correctly.
A majority of smartphone owners say they use their devices for several restaurant-related tasks at least a few times per year, such as to looking up basic information about a restaurant (location and hours of operation, for example), viewing menus, reading online reviews, using rewards and special deals, and ordering takeout or delivery on restaurant-branded apps. Half also say they look up nutrition information on their devices several times per year, and one-quarter use their phones to pay for meals at that frequency.
The NRA research also examines consumers who frequently use these tech options. It found that among consumers who use these options at least once per week, the proportional spread across age groups shrunk from the much wider gaps shown for overall and occasional use.
For example, 15 percent of all adults use their smartphone to look up nutrition information at least once per week: 14 percent among consumers in the 18-34 age group, and 12 percent among those 65 and older. Similarly, 11 percent of all adults use their smartphone to use rewards or special deals at least once per week: 11 percent among consumers in the 18-34 age group, and 12 percent among those 65 and older.
The National Restaurant Association commissioned ORC International to survey 1,007 American adults on October 2-5, 2014, for their attitudes toward and use of restaurant-related technology options.