CHICAGO — New technologies aimed at offering convenience, such as mobile ordering, delivery apps and self-ordering kiosks, have breathed life into an otherwise stagnant food service category. U.S. food service traffic has waffled between a 1% gain and flat for several years, according to The NPD Group, but restaurant visits paid by mobile app increased by 50% over the last year.

“Mobile apps and other technologies are meeting the needs of time-strapped consumers and have given new meaning to quick service,” NPD said.

Timeliness is top of mind for consumers using mobile pay, according to NPD’s Digital Evolution of Foodservice report. Among the leading reasons for ordering via mobile apps and other technologies was so consumers could order, pay and have their food ready when they arrive. Consumers also prefer apps because of the ability to earn rewards and loyalty points, receive specials and coupons, and look up menu items, the report said.

“Special offers and coupons are favorite mobile app features,” NPD said. “Consumers want value and affordability, and mobile apps can unlock unique opportunities and offer personalized promotions.”

“Providing the ability to easily order food from a restaurant is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have." — Warren Solochek, The NPD Group

However, not all consumers are embracing technology in their food service experiences. In 2017, two in five restaurant visits were paid in cash, NPD said. Of these digital non-users, 22% say they prefer to pay in cash, while 18% do not want to pay service fees and 16% are concerned about identity theft or credit card fraud. Top barriers keeping consumers from using digital services for their restaurant visits include their contentment with the way the system already is, their preference for human interaction and their worries about technical errors.

“Providing the ability to easily order food from a restaurant is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have,” said Warren Solochek, senior vice-president of industry relations for NPD. “Restaurant operators seeking to gain more visits and grow the bottom line must decide which convenience enablers, digital or non-digital, are worth their investment.”

Digitally enabled convenience infographic, NPD