The future of fast food: faster, more convenient, healthier, more luxurious


On Friday I was interviewed on the current affairs program Today Tonight about the future of fast food. Click on the image to see a video of the segment.

Perhaps the dominant trend in society today is increased expectations. Those expectations apply across all domains, but absolutely in the immediacy of our everyday lives.

As people feel – and increasingly are – time-poor, speed and convenience dominate. Not surprisingly, customers are expecting fast food to become even faster.

Some of the technologies that support faster food include:

* Pre-ordering food. Allowing ordering before you arrive at a fast food outlet is becoming commonplace. In the US, Chipotle, Pizza Hut, and Subway have been offering this for over two years.

* Touch screens replacing counter staff. The transition is similar to the replacement of bank tellers with ATMs, enabling faster and more efficient service.

* Predictive technologies. It is some years since the introduction of technologies to predict what drive-in customers will order based on visual analysis of the car and its occupants. These technologies will continue to evolve.

* Location-based ordering and delivery. Voice-based ordering is useful when driving. If combined with mobile location disclosure then orders can be timed to be ready just when the customer arrives, or someone can go to give them their order as they drive or walk by the outlet.

However, as noted in the segment transcript:

“Either you need to be very fast, very convenient and high quality or you need to provide an entire experience and those companies that are not able to do either of those will just be left behind,” Mr Dawson said.

Expectations are not only for speed and convenience. People also like a feeling of luxury or exclusivity. Some fast-food chains are investing in landmark outlets that are attractive and upmarket, not the brightly-lit tacky diners filled with plastic that people are used to. Their customers still expect the food to be fast, but are prepared to pay a premium for a more attractive environment.

Of course another major trend is towards healthier food. The market for unhealthy fast food is shrinking, though still unfortunately large. For those companies able to meet the challenge, convenient and truly healthy food will continue to be a very rapidly growing market.

Like it or not, fast food is here to stay, over time getting faster than ever.