Restaurant Trends: Digital Cafes

Dec 13, 2022

Let’s begin with defining convenience. Ten years ago, a quick service lunch meant going inside a restaurant, reviewing the menu, telling a staff member what you’d like, and waiting a few minutes before getting your tray and sitting down with other lunch-goers. Today, that sort of convenience is unrecognizable. According to QSR, completing orders through apps, relaying orders to touch screen kiosks, and picking up food from drive-thrus is the way of the “time-pressed” future. Digital cafes are popping up nationwide to help fit customers’ needs quickly and efficiently.


Big fast food chains are jumping aboard the digital train, like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Wingstop, says The Street. Some have beefed up their technology, like apps, drive-thrus, and rewards, and some have gone further, eliminating dining space altogether. Last year, Wingstop, a chicken chain that began in Texas, opened its first “restaurant of the future.” With no register and no front staff, their zero-cash approach operates with ordering screens. According to the article, Wingstop’s eventual goal is to transition to online and app orders exclusively.


Chipotle, back in 2018, opened its first drive-thru-only restaurant, Chipotlane, with tremendous success, says RIS. Their no dine-in storefront offered food exclusively through their drive-thru service. Last year, they opened what they’re calling the Chipotle Digital Kitchen, which features a drive-thru, and walk-up ordering window for convenience. The restaurant will operate through an app, online, and delivery orders (like Urban Eats), but also have a small outdoor patio area for dining.

digital ordering
A kiosk as seen at Burger Boss


Fast food giant McDonald’s is also testing the waters with digitally-operated stores. Slower to embrace the full digital experience, McDonald’s created a more customer-forward store in Fort Worth, Texas, says The Street. Half the size of its regular stores, this one has a conveyor belt for online pick-up orders, shelves for delivery services, and kiosks for customers who haven’t looked at their phones in awhile. This solo restaurant serves as a guinea pig for the company to see how successful (or not) it is for their chain.


In 2021, Taco Bell opened its digital-only location in New York City’s Times Square. Eliminating contact completely, customers order through kiosks and grab their food from locked cubbies, says the New York Post. A hint of human existence appears as each order is made in an open kitchen, and then placed in a heated cubby with a lamp that turns pink when ready. With the entering of a code number on a touchscreen, customers can extract the order and be on their way, says the article.


Lunch has become a quick, efficient, and high-tech experience thanks to these chains. There are a lot of opinions about how much human interaction is being eliminated through these technologies. But the customer has spoken; digital cafes are gaining traction. Whether you’re out to lunch on your break, picking up an order for a customer, or simply trying out something new, lunchtime has come a long way. Keep up with restaurant technological trends on the Synergy Blog.