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QSR diners prefer engaging with staff over technology

A new white paper from JLL’s Big Red Rooster has suggested that diners still prefer engaging with staff at quick-service restaurants (QSR) to a fully technological experience.

Most consumers still prefer working with staff throughout their dining experience, reports the research.

Over half (54 per cent) want help navigating the menu, 59 per cent want help customizing orders, half want human interaction when paying, and 63 per cent want help receiving the order. Even within the demographic most associated with wanting more technology, Gen Z, up to 50 per cent of respondents still prefer staff across their QSR experience.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers believe that restaurant employees have more control over their dining experience than the restaurant brand itself, and only 18 per cent cited incorporating labour-saving technology as one of the top three things brands can do to improve service.

Most consumers (52 per cent) believe that increasing the number of staff during peak traffic times would create the most positive experiences, while 48 per cent said increasing wages would have the most positive impact. The good news there is that wages are already on the rise — QSR pay jumped 10 per cent in the U.S. in the second quarter, the industry’s largest quarterly jump in years.

The recent research shows that only one in five QSR customers feel service has declined in the past six months, despite a challenging labour market and the return of on-premise dining. In fact, one in four diners reported improved service during the period.

The challenge for operators moving forward is finding a happy medium between the significant technological investments that have been made during the pandemic and those rising labour costs and the hiring crisis.

Solutions to the struggle to find the balance could include focusing technology on labour-saving automation in the kitchen, which a) wouldn’t be seen by customers and b) could free up more staff to focus on the front-of-house guest experience.

Big Red Rooster points to Chick-fil-A and Starbucks as case studies in striking such a balance.

Notably, only one-quarter of consumers rated QSR brands as “excellent” in making them feel cared for, Emily Albright Miller, SVP of Strategy at Big Red Rooster, said in a statement. “Above all, this reiterates the importance of human connection on brand experience,” Miller said.

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