Technology in Fast Casuals

By Douglas J. Green

Nothing has changed our culture faster and more permanently than technology; from the way we connect with friends and family, to the way we listen to music, learn languages, buy clothes, create art, identify trends across the globe, and take pictures of our food to share with people that we’ll never meet. The integration of technology into the retail and restaurant sector foreshadows what will undoubtedly be a massive transformation in the industry. It will change our shopping and dining experiences forever from what was once one-dimensional into multi-sensory experiential events that can be shared, instagrammed, snapchatted, tracked and analyzed in real time from both a consumer and business perspective.

There is an often divisive viewpoint about retail in the future, that concepts can only survive online or in brick and mortar. Retailers looking in only one of these directions for brand expansion fail to embrace a major opportunity to create engaging relationships with customers that melds both the worlds of technology and the in-store experience, one that will reflect the values and experiences that Millennials (and even older generations) crave in their cities and consumer styles. Creating space for technology, social life, and our retail/dining cultures to co-mingle in one space is the future of the omni-channel brick and mortar location: a call to action for our retail stores to create an unlimited number of touchpoints for the consumer with their brand.


Finding ways to engage individuals on the street level, retail spaces are morphing into the missing “Third Place” globally, as a space for people to meet and socialize that is not work or home. Brands like Samsung are already advancing in this direction with their latest innovation, Samsung 837, which houses live cooking classes in a Samsung-designed smart kitchen as well as a cafe amongst rooms of highly designed Samsung products for sale. This integration fits well with Samsung’s brand, which is essential to the success of creating authentic in-house experiences.  Taking a similar approach is Philadelphia-headquartered Urban Outfitters which bought The Vetri Family group of restaurants with plans to massively expand and integrate both brands.  However, their stock value fell following the announcement, as the brand alignment was not naturally apparent to shareholders. Whether this partnership will expand Urban’s physical foothold remains to be seen. Creating engaging spaces for people to gather skewers the idea that brick and mortar is dying in lieu of online retail, as societies will always seek places to gather, and people will always need something to eat.  From there, the hope is that a pre or post meal apparel purchase will ensue.

Seeking experiences rather than passive observation, the new breed of consumer is highly driven by social media. These social shoppers use blogs and social media to help make informed decisions about what’s trending in the food and retail worlds. They look to core influencers, which are no longer just in our neighborhoods or in magazines. There are thousands of them, and there are photos of them doing everything from brushing their teeth with their favorite toothpaste to uncorking the most exclusive bottle of champagne. Shoppers that use social media on the day of a shopping trip are 29% more likely to make a purchase, and are 4x more likely than non-social media users to spend “significantly more” on purchases as a result of digital shopping research. Brands that create social media-worthy images and engage these core influencers are increasing their bottom line by inspiring and enticing the social shopper.  Pushing shoppers to see, touch and feel an item in-person can be meaningfully affected by an effective social media strategy.

Re-posting user generated content and creating “Instagram-worthy” dishes that will cause the next social craze drives door traffic for dining and fast-casual concepts, as thousands of social users post photos of buzzworthy desserts, tout the benefits of eating clean, celebrate over cocktails, pose with bubble tea, stand in two hour lines for Thai rolled ice cream, and clamor to partake in the Next Big Thing. Nielsen reports that 60% of millennials eat out once a week, twice as much as the preceding baby boomer generation. Beyond a steady stream of photo promotion, the number one reason for these concepts to incorporate digital solutions to their business models is on-the-spot, play-by-play tracking of sales, conversions, and user engagement directly on a daily basis. This data analysis once took weeks, months or even quarterly financial cycles for businesses to report and integrate. Now concepts, like MSC Retail client honeygrow, can quickly assess the effectiveness of a new product concept, analyzing and comparing data to earlier permutations of the brand’s line of healthy fast-casual salads and stir-frys tailored to individual selections ordered via touchscreen.


The integration of technology in fast-casual and dining concepts is essential to creating a sustainable business model from sales tracking, to customer personalization, and social engagement. “Utilizing tech not just for tech sake is critical – our usage of kiosk technology essentially solved a problem correlated to maximizing throughput for a menu focused on made-to-order product.  If there is no purpose behind the technology – in this case increasing our sales volume while capturing data of which items and ingredients sell – then don’t make the investment,”said Justin Rosenberg, Founder and CEO of honeygrow, on how technology is a core tenant of the success of his rapidly expanding fast-casual concept.  

The access that technology gives both consumers and businesses can be a double-edged sword, as users can connect directly with brands way beyond the limits of the antiquated comment card, through direct messages, user generated content, hashtags, location check-ins, and photo tags. Domino’s felt the sting of employees who shared unsavory photos defacing pizzas, and used the opportunity to go on the offensive by asking customers to send photos of pizzas arriving in-tact and on-time or receive their money back. Everyone’s a critic, everyone has a camera and a microphone in today’s technology culture. Only brands that navigate this constantly evolving terrain with equally progressive adaptation will thrive.  

Creating a culture of open dialogue, accountability, and trustworthiness, as well as excitement and originality, is essential to the new consumer as information has never been more accessible and there have never been more choices available. At MSC Retail, we guide retail, dining, and fast-casual concepts through the process of communicating authenticity at every turn: from location selection, to concept creation and enhancement, to providing insight from our diverse team of experts that come to commercial real estate as restaurateurs, engineers, analysts, consultants, and marketers.  This multi-pronged, holistic approach mirrors the challenges facing retailers today, and gives our clients a unique advantage in an ever-shifting marketplace.