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2024 Restaurant Dining Trends: AI Everywhere, Labor Optimization, and Beyond

Restaurant Dining Trends 2024

In a landscape marked by inflation, increasing labor costs, and the rise of AI, we’re in an era of disruption that’s transforming the entire hospitality industry as we know it. As restaurant operators, it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead and how to adapt, especially in a time of breakneck efficiency, tight margins, and rapid technological advancements. It’s even more challenging to know what innovation or strategy is a fleeting trend or a long-term industry advancement. To help you navigate the twists and turns of the dynamic restaurant industry, we investigated the top 2024 restaurant dining trends operators must be prepared for, including:

  • The shift toward phone and text ordering via artificial intelligence
  • Streamlining back-of-house tasks with integrated technology for greater efficiency
  • Continuing to leverage ghost kitchens as significant revenue generators

With knowledge of these trends, you’ll stay ahead of the curve as we enter a new year.

Moving Away From Call Centers and Towards AI Phone Ordering

On average, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) handle 50-75 calls daily. However, multiple calls at once often lead to extended wait times and result in around 150 unanswered calls per month. With the average order value at $25 and roughly 60% of unanswered calls being missed orders, the annual revenue loss amounts to over $27,000.

As labor costs continue to rise in 2024 and phone orders become harder to manage, many operators will outsource call centers, a practice already used by major brands like Applebee’s and Papa John’s

However, while offshore call centers offer significant labor cost savings, brands run the risk of incorrect orders due to communication difficulties. “You may have saved a few dollars in labor, but you might have really damaged the guest experience,” says Shannon Chirone, Senior Vice President of Marketing at HungerRush.

Instead, Chirone says more brands will address these labor issues by using AI to streamline phone ordering and improve customer and employee experiences. One such solution is voice AI, also known as conversational AI, which allows customers to engage in natural, free-flowing conversations with virtual assistants, similar to how they would talk with staff members. These virtual assistants take orders and seamlessly integrate with a restaurant’s POS and kitchen display (KDS) system.

For instance, HungerRush’s OrderAI Talk phone bot enables customers to place orders via phone without staff interaction. “OrderAI is always on the phone, ready to take a phone call, and you can take infinite phone calls at once,” says Aaron Nilsson, Chief Information Officer at Jet’s Pizza, a leading pizza franchise with hundreds of locations across the US. “This is a way to leverage technology to get people off the phones and back into the fun part of the job: making pizzas,” he says.

Even during the busiest rushes, the customer will hear the pleasant voice of the AI phone bot rather than a stressed employee, providing a great customer experience every time. It also accommodates various dialects and conversational nuances, helping to reduce customer frustrations associated with less sophisticated phone bots and save on labor costs.

“[Call centers] are still an expensive solution in the long run because it’s all human capital,” says Thierry. “Ultimately, what you want to be able to do is replicate that, with really well thought out technology and AI.

After switching to AI phone ordering, Jet’s Pizza reported increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and higher order accuracy. Jet’s Pizza now earns $6 million monthly from OrderAI technology and has a 92% order completion rate for phone bot customers.

Using AI Text Ordering as a Reorder Channel 

While restaurants adopt new solutions to manage phone ordering, another tool often remains underutilized: AI text ordering

As we enter 2024 restaurant dining trends will include, more restaurant owners will embracing text ordering capabilities—opening the door for ordering convenience and enhanced customer loyalty.

Studies have shown that 70% of consumers subscribed to text marketing in 2022, showing a 12% growth year-over-year in SMS opt-in rates. Additionally, 20% of Gen Z consumers indicated their interest in text-to-buy options to purchase directly through text messaging.

Thierry says the convenience of texting is unmatched, making it a powerful reordering channel. When a restaurant sends an email or text reminder to reorder, the customer usually has to open another app or website to place the order, creating more friction—and the possibility of a lost order—in the ordering process.

However, with AI text ordering, customers can place their order without leaving the text conversation; they enter their four-digit PIN code to confirm their order directly in the chat. The immediacy of response makes AI text reordering a big lift channel, says Thierry. “It generally creates a higher frequency of orders and a higher ticket price per order.” 

HungerRush’s OrderAI Text allows restaurants to leverage texting as a seamless and effective reorder channel alongside other ordering channels. It also allows customers to opt-in for marketing promotions where they’ll receive text reminders at critical reorder times. Data from pizzerias using HungerRush OrderAI Text shows they experienced a 29% increase in revenue month-over-month, with an average of 291 orders using the platform.

Jet’s Pizza is an early adopter of HungerRush’s OrderAI Text. We found that 29% of Jet’s Pizza customers who received text promotions placed at least one order, and 20% of text-ordering customers placed two or more orders monthly.

A Greater Focus on Cost-Saving Technology

Amidst rising minimum wages, shifting delivery fee models, and increasing operating costs, cost-saving measures are paramount for restaurant operators (no matter the year).

The margins in restaurants are already thin, says Thierry. The National Restaurant Association found that 88% of restaurant operators reported higher food costs, and 86% said their labor costs were higher than in 2019. 

While costs continue to rise, Thierry says online ordering volume is also increasing. Restaurants will all deal with cost-related challenges differently, but the one strategy we’ll continue to see more of is investing in the right technology to improve efficiency and reduce overhead costs.

For example, AI phone and text ordering can lighten employee workload and optimize labor costs while improving customer experience. AI ordering has also been shown to generate significant revenue and increase average ticket sizes through personalized upselling opportunities. We anticipate seeing more AI ordering in 2024 restaurant dining trends

Thierry adds that more operators will look to move their phone business, especially repeat customers, to text ordering. “The guest experience is great, and the cost is minimal compared to voice-based ordering.”

To address rising food costs, restaurant operators will rely on food cost monitoring technology to keep track of ingredient price fluctuations and make menu pricing adjustments. One example of this technology is xtraCHEF, which syncs invoices to offer ingredient-level insights and cost monitoring. Similarly, cloud-based systems like Meez enable restaurants to save recipes, analyze food costs, and experience real-time updates based on recent invoices and receipts. 

Additionally, more operators will invest in cross-compatible platforms like HungerRush 360 to handle orders, track deliveries, and manage inventory and labor, all from one centralized POS system. This integrated system saves the headache of dealing with separate devices (and subscription fees) for each ordering channel or third-party service.

Taking Better Care of Your Employees

The labor market in the hospitality industry is cooling off as we enter a new year. Hospitality industry unemployment rates have returned to pre-2020 levels, hovering around 5-6%, and quits and separations began to steady in the first half of 2023. These 2024 restaurant dining trends are a sign that the labor market is shifting back in favor of employers. 

As employers see some power return, the basic principles of employee retention remain constant: workers who feel valued and cared for are more likely to stay in their current roles.

Engaged employees lead to lower turnover and better customer experience. A recent Gallup survey found employee engagement has hit a record high since 2009, with 23% of employees feeling engaged at work. Operators must prioritize employee engagement by providing better tools, communication, and recognition.

Research shows that efficient workplace communication boosts productivity by up to 25% and reduces turnover by 50%. More restaurants will look to digital communication tools like back-of-house signage and mobile apps, such as 7Shifts and Homebase, rather than phone calls and verbal communication to improve communication and foster higher morale and loyalty. 

Better employee recognition can also reduce turnover by 31%, meaning those who invest in employee well-being, growth, and job satisfaction through technology and improved internal systems will win in people operations moving forward. Beyond leveraging available digital platforms for employee communication and recognition, improving the quality of work life for workers includes providing fair compensation and benefits, structured career paths, flexible scheduling, learning and development opportunities, and empathetic leadership.

Tech-Enabled Back-of-House Efficiency

In today’s fast-paced foodservice industry, there’s no room for inefficiency. The competition is fierce, and customers demand a seamless dining experience; if they don’t get that, they’ll take their business elsewhere. As a result, there’s a strong push in 2024 to enhance back-of-house efficiency by leveraging technology to stay ahead in this fast-paced environment according to 2024 restaurant dining trends.

While the front-of-house experience is becoming increasingly streamlined and automated, using POS systems and mobile apps, the back-of-house operations have often lagged behind. You can find kitchen staff scribbling complex recipe conversions on napkins or chefs racing between recipe binders and the pantry, trying to piece together the next purchase order.

Restaurant operators recognize the need to use technology in various aspects of back-of-house operations (BOH) to streamline processes and reduce human error. We will see more restaurants digitize their recipes, adding them to a central database where all teams and locations can access them in real-time or use predictive inventory tracking systems to generate more accurate purchase orders based on their planned recipes.

Culinary Operating Systems (COS) like Galley Solutions will be vital in streamlining back-of-house operations. A COS is a central hub where your recipes, menus, inventory, vendor costs, and kitchen tasks can communicate seamlessly.

As online orders continue to rise, other tools like digital kitchen display systems will become a staple in BOH operations, ensuring these orders get fulfilled efficiently and accurately. The display is linked to the POS, alerting the kitchen of a new order—whether in-house, online, or for delivery. The highly visual nature of a digital kitchen display system creates better synergy between the front-of-house and the BOH, enabling efficient order execution and delivery time monitoring.

Maximizing Your Assets Using Ghost and Virtual Kitchens

Running a successful restaurant operation is all about maximizing the assets you already have. Ghost and virtual kitchens have emerged as innovative ways to achieve just that. These kitchen concepts leverage existing or unbranded commercial kitchens to exclusively prepare food for delivery (and sometimes pickup) orders.

A recent survey found that in the past month, 77% of consumers had food delivered, while 76% opted for takeout. As food delivery continues to increase in popularity, more operators will explore ghost and virtual kitchens to meet the growing demand for off-premises dining.

Virtual kitchens host multiple brands in the same kitchen, with only one brand offering dine-in. For example, Thierry explains that a location could, first and foremost, be a restaurant with on-premise dining. Meanwhile, another brand is cooking out of this same kitchen but only offers delivery or pickup orders.

“If you’re a restaurant operator, you’re going to look for ways to continue to use the assets that you’ve got—kitchen staff, kitchen equipment, and location—to drive more business if you can,” says Thierry.

Alternatively, Thierry says more restaurant chains will invest in ghost kitchens in 2024. Ghost kitchens are unbranded kitchens that cook the same food as their dine-in locations but offer closer delivery or pickup points for specific neighborhoods. This concept lowers delivery costs, expands delivery zones, and enhances the guest experience. 

Both kitchen concepts help restaurants improve their food delivery operations and make better use of their existing assets. They also allow businesses to manage multiple food brands from a single kitchen, broadening their offerings and customer reach.

HungerRush Can Help You Stay Ahead of the Curve

As the restaurant industry continues to get hit with increasing costs and face operational inefficiencies, one thing remains true: those who invest in quality restaurant technology will be better positioned to combat these challenges and come out on top. We hope these 2024 restaurant dining trends were helpful as the new year is right around the corner. The time to start planning is now. Discover how HungerRush 360 can help your business succeed in the new year.

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