Many diners keen on metaverse, but restaurants must mitigate

The rapid evolution of technology has long been redefining restaurant consumers’ concept of “normal”. Think of the move from laminated print menus as a standard to QR codes or ordering kiosks. Now, the next step may well be the metaverse.

A new Paytronix and PYMNTS Report, The Digital Divide: Technology, The Metaverse, and the Future of Dining Out, has concluded that the advanced, social, virtual reality platform may develop into another way in which restaurant customers interact with their favourite brands, hang out with other fans of their favourite eateries, and maybe even buy their favourite foods.

Diners are already involved. Already, 18 per cent of consumers have participated in a metaverse environment, the research found.

Unsurprisingly, adoption varies by demographic. While 20 per cent of restaurant consumers are familiar with the metaverse and slightly fewer have already used it, it is Millennials and Gen Z who are leading the charge.

Four in 10 (40 per cent) of Gen Z respondents said they are very familiar with the metaverse. It could become a crucial method of reaching them, as Gen Z consumers visit restaurants less frequently than Gen X and Millennials did at the same age.

However, interestingly, Gen Z consumers do not lead all generations in actual metaverse participation. One in three (34 per cent of) Millennials have already participated in the metaverse, compared to 27 per cent of Gen Z.

One-third of grab-and-go customers — those who do not spend the time to sit down and dine in — are very or extremely familiar with the metaverse, more than double the percentage of either dine-in or “either-or” customers.

In addition, 38 per cent of consumers who already participate in the metaverse or are interested in it would be willing to integrate restaurant purchases into this environment, including a majority of grab-and-go customers.

Among consumers who are not interested in buying food in the metaverse, many are not interested because they are either unfamiliar with it or believe the metaverse is complicated.

Many restaurants, particularly QSRs and fast-casuals, have already either dipped their toes in the waters of the metaverse or have jumped right in.

Last fall, Chipotle opened a virtual restaurant in the gaming platform Roblox where visitors could get a promotional code for a free burrito, while Wendy’s opened a restaurant in Horizon Worlds, a virtual reality game from Meta, where visitors can play a virtual basketball game. Other brands are tying the metaverse into loyalty and rewards programs.

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Before restaurants become well-versed with the metaverse, however, they must focus on their current customers. A majority of diners say that friendly waitstaff and staff continuity at their favourite eateries are some of the most important factors that keep bringing them back. More than one-third of consumers say that friendliness is the most important thing a restaurant can provide, and nearly three-quarters say that seeing the same staff every time they visit a restaurant positively influences their experience. 

“The media landscape is already scattered, creating a massive fight for attention. Brands are vying for spots on Google search, in Facebook feeds, on Apple screens, and on any of dozens of different social sites. The metaverse represents the next battleground,” said Michelle Tempesta, CMO of Paytronix. “Loyalty programs open a direct line of communication between brands and customers that only continues to grow in importance. Customers want to maintain a strong relationship with their favourite brands, regardless of where that happens.”

The report concludes that in restaurants, technology can augment — or sometimes even replace — waitstaff, improve efficiency, or even facilitate a virtual world where restaurant enthusiasts can dine with friends and virtual acquaintances online. However, it stresses that good, high-quality service with employees whom regular consumers recognize and enjoy interacting with are a key investment, and one that should not be overlooked as eateries get ready for the restaurant technologies of the future, such as the metaverse.

Read the full report here.