Digital Technology and Retail Design

Fast food is getting faster and good use of digital has become an essential component in growing and driving its success, creative director Robert Rosser explains more.

The fast food industry continues to flourish. With ever busier lifestyles, people are less willing to cook for themselves, and are attracted to fast food for its affordability. Meanwhile the quality and diversity of fast food keeps improving, with leading brands like McDonald's adapting their offering to focus more on health and quality.

The gap is also closing between fast food and casual dining restaurants, following the growth of ‘fast casual’ brands like Five Guys, Wahaca and Leon.

With these changes, expectations have risen – customers want great service, quality food and a memorable experience in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Today, the design of fast food restaurants need to achieve this while removing the perception of ‘fast and cheap’.

In this evolution, using technology to enhance the customer experience has been key, with almost every fast food brand embracing digital in some respect. Merging digital and physical worlds helps to strengthen branding and experience, while at a fast food outlet, but also interactions beyond that.

Choosing your destination and food before you go 

You can now use your desktop or phone to locate your nearest preferred food outlet, and easily share details to meet up with friends. Websites and apps can also let you know about the latest daily specials or offers before you visit, starting the experience before you’ve even arrived.

Brands like Burger King and Subway have invested in pre-ordering services, where you can place your order via a phone app or online so the food is ready and waiting when you arrive. 

Improving the ordering process in store  

When inside the physical fast food outlet, you don’t just queue, order and collect your food in one go anymore. Instead there are fast lanes where you your order is taken as at a delicatessen. New digital terminals that combine ordering and payment are also making purchases more efficient and convenient. 

McDonald’s has introduced interactive self-serve kiosks, seen in the new London Oxford Street branch that opened this summer. These giant phone screen terminals allow you to place your order, and even customise your burger, while avoiding the queues. You can also explore more detailed information about calories, nutrition and ingredients. 

Personalised menus and offers here can also enhance the in-store experience. In France this can include placing your order using the kiosk, taking a ticket and your seat and waiting for your meal to be served direct to your table. 

Using digital signage to engage customers  

Whether it’s ordering at a kiosk or serving counter, diners needs to understand the offer immediately to order quickly and reduce dwell time. Use of effective communication graphics is key here, and digital signage is more engaging and flexible than static printed graphics.

In this fast-paced environment, menus change frequently so digital signage can keep information up to speed. It allows you to update content quickly and remotely at any time and promote new or change under-performing products on the fly. 

The high resolution screens make the branding and food images look more enticing, plus changing content or motion video on the display is more engaging, entertaining customers while they wait. Digital screens can also convey the readiness of the ordered food items in real time.

Creating a relaxed, welcoming environment 

As much as speed and convenience are important to some diners, other consumers want a place to meet, chat and relax where food is just part of the experience. So fast food interior design is increasingly creating more warmth and integrity. From the wholesome looking greens and natural materials in McDonald’s to the eclectic interior design of independents such as Love Koffee who’ve used Indian bicycle wheels as light fittings and reclaimed doors used as wall coverings. 

Seating options are more varied and flexible, combining sofa lounge areas, high tables to perch on and intimate booths. Adjustable lighting and curated music playlists are digitally-led ways to adjust the mood to match certain times of the day. 

Providing the ability to charge your mobile phone, is another way Fast Food retailers are using everyday requirements to tempt customers into their stores and make a purchase, customers are now entering these dwell areas not even for the retailers primary or secondary offer but to ensure their mobiles are fully charged and they are able to stay online while on the move.

Keeping diners happy and entertained 

As digital devices are increasingly present at home, so they are in restaurant spaces. Some of the latest fast food fit-outs have fixed tablet devices on tables, allowing diners to game, chat or read the news while they stop for a bite to eat.

For child-friendly outlets, colouring books are being replaced with electronic tablets, games or activities to keep families entertained. Play zones with interactive projections and screens keeping kids happy beyond the meal.

Free wifi is also a must and food retailers can use this service to collect consumer data that can then enhance their experience and attract diners back.

Exploring home delivery In the fast-food world, the culture of take away and drive-through remains, but the desire for home delivery has increased dramatically with mobile apps enabling food to be ordered at the touch of a button. 

The rise of third-party online ordering portals such as Deliveroo and Just Eat, means fast food chains are exploring home delivery options. Burger King began trialling home delivery in 2015 with a national rollout expected, while Pizza Express is looking at opening 150 delivery sites over the next five years.

What’s clear is that whether it’s dining in, taking away or home delivery, fast food retail design needs to achieve a consistent and holistic experience with a high level of service. The use of various digital tools to help achieve that is only likely to increase.

If you would like to find out a little more about how we can help you improve your in-store customer experience, please get in touch. 

Robert Rosser

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