The vast majority of the food consumed by Americans used to be at home, with eating out reserved as a treat or for celebration, but according to data from the US Department of Agriculture the scale began to reverse about 10 years ago so that by 2017 – the most recently available data – 53.8% or $869 billion went to food purchased away from home. This left 46.2% of the total food expenditure, or $764 billion, going to products purchased for consumption at home.
Part of the reason for the spending reversal is an increase in national income – giving Americans more financial wiggle room to pay more for prepared food, according to USDA. But as Oracle notes in its study, advances in technology have made it easier for consumers to buy food at or from restaurants – saving them the time it would take to plan and prepare food at home.
Oracle’s study, based on responses from 279 leaders in the food and beverage industry who use mobile technology in their organizations during the summer of 2018, revealed the use of mobile and back-end technology allows restaurants to turn tables faster, better cross and upsell and see overall higher ticket values.
An unclear future
But while the benefits for today are clear, survey respondents were unsure about the future.
“Food and beverage professionals are clearly excited about these benefits, but that excitement comes with a side of anxiety,” according to the report. “Many felt weighed down by a threat of disruption from more customer-centric competitors and are afraid they aren’t investing enough to keep up.”
For example, Oracle found 62% of survey respondents expressed doubt about their ability to keep up with the fast pace of change and consumers’ evolving demands and expectations brought by advances in technology. In addition, 59% said their companies faced the threat of disruption from more mobile-enabled competitors.
Overall, only 48% of respondents were confident they could capitalize on future tech innovations. Part of the problem here may be too many choices and a lack of certainty about where to invest.
Guest-facing apps and inventory management solutions are top priorities
According to Oracle’s survey, the answer is to focus on mobile innovation that targets inventory efficiency, new customer engagement, more efficient serving and building loyalty.
Two ways to do that are through guest-facing apps and mobile inventory management solutions, according to the survey.
It found 93% of survey respondents agree guest-facing mobile apps promote loyalty and repeat business, 86% agree that branded mobile apps improve speed of service and 84% say they reduce labor costs.
At the same time, 96% agree that expanding the use of mobile technology to handle mobile inventory management will drive time and money savings, according to the survey.
When evaluating where to invest in mobile technology, Oracle recommends that restaurants allow “customer experience, loyalty and repeat business to guide mobile initiatives,” noting that “investment in mobile should be there to support experience delivery, not the other way around.”
With that in mind, it also recommends that restaurants work with mobile-first startups to reach new customers, but temper their involvement with an understanding that doing so might shrink profit margins and shift customer allegiances.
Retailers and CPG makers also are embracing mobile
At the same time the restaurants are exploring how mobile and other technology can help build their business, many grocery retailers and manufacturers also exploring how technology and ecommerce can help them defend their share of plate.
The grocery website Peapod, for example, is using the flexibility of ecommerce to create and display bundles of CPG products online similar to how brick and mortar stores use endcaps. However, because it is virtual there is more flexibility about when and how to reconfigure the bundles.
Peapod also is using recipes and CPG-based meal kits created to offer solutions targeting a key reason consumers eat out and order in: convenience.
Meanwhile, manufacturers are also using technology to boost consumer loyalty by offering services such as auto-renewal or subscribe and save deals to consumers who buy their products online. Also simple adjustments that make brands’ ecommerce webpages mobile friendly are making it easier for consumers to add products to their cart while they are on the go, rather than needing to wait and remember to do so when they get to a laptop or desktop.