While the global pandemic has tragically impacted millions of individuals and businesses, it has forced merchants to apply creative and resourceful thinking in order to survive, or even thrive.

One market segment that has been particularly creative and thus resilient during the pandemic is the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry.  Survival during these socially constrained times has taught QSRs a few things about how resilient their operations are, what technologies can truly support current and future initiatives, and what strategies can keep businesses running. These lessons are driving four new digital-transformation trends within the QSR space, including:

  1. Digital Drive-Thrus: In October 2020, the news broke that Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons planned to upgrade more than 10,000 drive-thrus in the coming year. The drive-thrus will include 40,000-plus digital screens that offer customers new features. For example, predictive selling via artificial intelligence can dynamically learn customers’ preferred ordering habits, show trending menu items for a specific location, and allow special promotions to be tailored to each customer based on previous orders, regional weather patterns, time of day and other factors.
  2. Omni-channel Payments: While cash and cards aren’t going away, the pandemic drove many customers to prefer using contactless payment methods like QR codes or digital payments apps. (In fact, the new digital drive-thru menu boards at Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons will take immediate, remote contactless payments, so guests can order and pay simultaneously.) Customers also now desire new ways to order and pay for food, including websites, mobile apps, outdoor terminals and self-service kiosks. As customers demand more ways to pay, and more places at which to order and pay, QSRs will need infrastructure in place that allows them to securely accept and process a variety of types of payments from different locations.
  3. IoT in the Kitchen: Smart kitchen devices can track a variety of cooking and equipment data, “talk” to each other with minimal human intervention, and connect to management and POS systems. They can trigger alerts for preventive equipment maintenance or repairs, more accurately manage inventory and stock, streamline food preparation, and more. As the pandemic highlighted the importance of running a lean operation, more restaurants may begin to invest in connected units to create efficiencies and reduce costs.
  4. Ghost Kitchens: Ghost kitchens, or satellite kitchens, allow brands to prepare delivery orders away from individual stores. This helps each location reduce costs on utilities, equipment operations, staff and more, and provide takeout and delivery service without opening a storefront. Some QSR brands within the same restaurant group are banding together to consolidate their delivery options to a single offsite location. Other ghost kitchens have popped up as a single space for a host of independent operators and brands with one thing in common: They’re all looking to save money while streamlining the delivery experience.

Finding a Network to Support the Trends

The common theme among all of these trends? “More.”

More devices, more digital payments options, and more locations add up to more traffic on a store’s communications network, and more network bandwidth needed. More smart and connected devices, and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout, create new network security threats — for example, an unsecured digital menu board connected to the network can be a backdoor for bad actors. Spinning up ghost kitchens and supporting omni-channel payments likewise will require an ability to extend network connectivity across a wider area.

For a QSR to implement the technologies needed to capitalize on these trends, it needs an agile, modernized comms network with the security that supports and enhances new digital transformation requirements, such as a secure software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN).

SD-WAN is more responsive and resilient than traditional MPLS or other legacy networks. It can improve application performance across a network by dynamically managing and prioritizing network traffic. With the right SD-WAN solution, QSRs can gain a range of benefits, including:

  • Better network performance
  • Scalability
  • Reduced costs
  • Greater agility in the face of change
  • Improved network security
  • More secure omni-channel payments

While trends may come and trends may go, network infrastructure that allows a QSR to become more agile and adaptable, and scale up and down as needed, will help support long-term survival and drive growth — even in a volatile environment. If you’re ready to learn more about the benefits of a secure SD-WAN, TNS is here to help.

Dan Lyman is Head of Global Products for TNS’ Payments Market business. He leads a global team of product specialists and is responsible for driving product innovation across TNS’ extensive portfolio of payments solutions.