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COVID-19 Leaves Restaurants Hungry for Digital

Six months after the start of the pandemic, Adobe and Publicis Sapient conducted a study among leaders of quick service (QSRs) and fast casual restaurant executives to assess their transformation, how they have leveraged digital technologies, and their maturity to uncover and capture opportunities for growth. Our research explored the executives’ perspectives and proficiencies in topics including mobile, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, internet of things, and more.

According to our research, 93% of the leaders we surveyed say the COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant or radical change on their business and, looking forward, 65% are seeing significant or tremendous gaps in their current digital offerings. Now, businesses are rethinking their digital roadmap to understand how to best transform in preparation for a fast-changing future.

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COVID-19 Leaves Restaurants Hungry for Digital

Research Key Findings

Food delivery

In 2019, prior to COVID-19, most customers purchased their food in-store, representing the largest percentage of revenue (41%). But since March 2020, many restaurants have been forced to close their stores, representing only 19% of total revenue. Successful QSRs have pivoted, embracing mobile, take-out, delivery, and other off-premise methods. As more consumers choose to stay home or limit their time in public places, sales from pickup and delivery orders placed through third-party apps have increased the most (70% and 69% respectively). Learn more.


Many QSRs have invested in digital, but they aren’t as advanced as they want to be—65% are seeing significant or tremendous gaps in their current digital offerings. Most QSRs (87%) have implemented a significant number of digital initiatives in the past three years, yet only 11% consider themselves a fully digital enterprise. Just over half (53%) say that they are well-advanced on the journey and 78% foresee changing 25% to 50% of their digital roadmap due to COVID-19 impact. Learn more.

Mobile and table

Customers go first to their mobile devices as they seek convenience in ordering. Mobile also unlocks new opportunities to enable contactless services. Our research showed mobile at the top of the list for technologies that QSR leaders believe will be key drivers of innovation in the industry. Mobile is the mechanism to deliver a variety of contactless services that are in demand from customers today. A large majority of QSR companies currently offer mobile payments (92%), mobile ordering (88%), and web ordering (84%). Learn more.

Data unlocking value

Data is already being used in combination with artificial intelligence to support personalization in areas such as digital menu boards, improvement of customer loyalty through engagement or targeted offers, and with other methods of automation or digital initiatives. QSR companies are most commonly using transactional data (64%) and master data (59%) to support AI initiatives. Yet while QSRs leverage data for personalization, restaurant executives also understand it will pose new threats and concerns. Concerns about security are getting in the way of designing and planning digital transformation—39% say it’s their biggest challenge. Learn more.

The Future of Dining is Digital

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How can restaurants prepare for a digital-first future?

Food & Dining experts from Publicis Sapient and Adobe explore the perspectives of 200+ restaurant leaders on topics ranging from digital maturity and the role of mobile and AI to the latest data-led strategies to keep pace with today’s fast-evolving consumer.

“The crisis has forced us to move much more quickly than you typically would within a franchise business to implement changes that were very healthy for the brand, and that were appropriate for our growth.”
QSR Leader

The recipe for change

Today, the pace of competition and change in the QSR and fast casual industry has never been faster. Sales channels have shifted from in-store dining to third-party and branded mobile apps with customers ordering for delivery and pickup. These changing customer preferences, as well as competitor growth and innovation, are making digital transformation a necessity for QSR companies. So how can fast casual restaurants and QSRs accelerate digital transformation beyond COVID-19?

To keep pace with the fast-changing future, restaurants should: 

1. Use data to understand mindset shifts

Data can help your business to segment and be more relevant to customers, adapting quickly to new habits and preferences. Having your own data is more important than ever in today’s cookie-less world.

2Create a scalable digital foundation

Building a strong digital foundation will help your business to compete against third-party apps and keep pace with the digitization of channels. It’s the underpinning of enabling real-time personalized experiences that drive loyalty.

3Digitize the journey

As interactions shift from physical to contactless, restaurants need to convert to digital processes across the customer journey.

4Modernize the technology stack

Restaurants need the latest technology to be positioned for the future—and the now. Modern technology on the cloud will enable micro-personalization, rapid experimentation, prototyping, and other innovations to position the business for the future.

5Ensure privacy by design

Customers expect data responsibility, so embed security and governance as you modernize technology.


Today, the pace of competition and change in the QSR and fast casual industry has never been faster. Our global team of experts, across Publicis Sapient and Adobe, can help translate shifts in the industry into value and accelerate your digital transformation.

Report in book form

Download Our Latest Research:

COVID-19 Leaves Restaurants Hungry for Digital

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