Solutions are flooding the landscape as challenges press on. But one thing is certain: customers are calling the shots.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to pin down how many eateries closed during the pandemic stretch. Whether it was 80,000, 90,000, or a shade over 70,000. But what was always clear, regardless of final counts, was the weight fell harshest on independent restaurants—about 10 percent closed in 2020 compared to 2.5 percent of chains. The reason for this wasn’t complex or in need of crunched analytics. Tom Bene, the former CEO of the National Restaurant Association, once noted the average restaurant had about eight weeks of cash on hand. That’s not really an indictment as much as a definition of how different life is running your own business versus having the ability to tap $50 million from a credit revolver, as Shake Shack did during the depths of COVID.

All said, though, beyond the landscape being smaller than it was, what is the frame of full-service restaurants rolling into 2024, with inflation and other pressing developments thrown in? TouchBistro recently released its annual State of the Restaurants Report to outline the top challenges and emerging trends defining the sit-down sector. About 600 full-service owners, CEOs, GMs, and area managers from across the country polled in for the survey.

The financial pulse

While 2023 was years removed from the dining room lockdowns and plexiglass headlines, it wasn’t “normal,” either. Overall inflation rates slowed a bit, but the cost to do business remained well elevated from pre-virus days. Couple that with a wary consumer at times, and profits in 2023 were even more stretched than usual for operators.

Despite a small increase in 2022, profit margins fell in 2023 to 9.3 percent, TouchBistro found. However, the figure doesn’t paint the entire picture. Small venues with less than 20 seats fared relatively well comparatively, with an average profit margin of 10.3 percent. Restaurants with 81–120 seats and more than 120 seats, also saw similar gains, with average profit margins of 10.4 and 10.7 percent, respectively.

The stores that took the biggest hit last year came with 21–40 and 41–80 seats (they both clocked in at 9 percent). In plain terms, “midsized” restaurants had the most difficulty navigating economic conditions and guarding margins.

Sales breakdown by channel:

  • Delivery: 20 percent
  • Patio: 20 percent
  • Dine-in: 50 percent
  • Takeout/curbside: 18 percent

Another after-shock of COVID was the debt pile. Going back to August 2020, the James Beard Foundation released survey data that suggested only 66 percent of independent bars and restaurants expected to survive the fall season without direct aid. Frothing to the top of this fear was the fact close to 75 percent reported taking on new debt obligations north of $50,000. Moreso, 12 percent tagged the number at $500,000 and above. Growing debt, and the deterioration in operating performance required to service it, forced heightened levels of investor and debt-holder concern and oversight in an industry that, pre-virus, was enjoying growth and foot traffic at near-historic levels.

In November of that opening COVID year, AlixPartners said restaurant debt more than doubled since the beginning of the Great Recession. Restaurant companies took advantage of continuously low interest rates and levered up to fund expansion and drive shareholder returns. It represented a large shift from 10 years prior when the sector’s debt levels were low in comparison with others.

The limited-service restaurant segment, encompassing fast food and fast casual, nearly quadrupled debt between 2009 and the end of 2019. The full-service world saw a less aggressive increase in its debt of nearly 30 percent. During the early days of COVID, brands across both proactively engaged in negotiations with lenders. The goal was to draw down on revolvers to maximize liquidity runways and avoid covenant violations. This increased debt between 2019 and the last 12 months 2020 by 8.1 percent for limited-service units and 15.7 percent for full-serves. The former, by the fall, sat at more than four times as much debt, while full service was at nearly 50 percent more than 2008 levels.

Let’s jump into the current environment.

In TouchBistro’s survey, 68 percent of full-service restaurants reported carrying some amount of debt. On average, it was $51,863.20—a number that could creep up as interest rates continue to rise, the company noted.

If debt is a piece of the profit puzzle, food costs are another. In fact, they appear to be an even bigger, more widespread concern in 2023 than the year before. This year, 58 percent of operators in the survey said rising inventory costs was their No. 1 source of financial strain, up from 54 percent in 2022. One positive upswing: rent and labor costs appear less a concern than some past calendars.

Greatest causes of financial strain in the past 12 months

Inventory costs

  • 2023: 58 percent
  • 2022: 54 percent
  • 2021: 33 percent

Rent

  • 2023: 17 percent
  • 2022: 23 percent
  • 2021: 30 percent

Labor costs

  • 2023: 20 percent
  • 2022: 22 percent
  • 2021: 30 percent

So how are restaurant operators navigating this high-cost arena?

  • Finding new, less expensive suppliers: 41 percent
  • Limiting promotions/specials: 36 percent
  • Eliminating certain menu items/inventory: 35 percent
  • Reducing the number of technology providers: 30 percent
  • Limiting hours of operating: 28 percent
  • Swapping more expensive ingredients for less expensive substitutes: 28 percent
  • Serving smaller portion sizes: 27 percent
  • Reducing the number of staff: 25 percent

The top tactic listed above—the search for more cost-effective suppliers—led last year as well, at 40 percent. A figure that rose was eliminating menu items and inventory, which was up to 35 from 27 percent, year-over-year.

Something else that’s continued is the shift to new and growing avenues of revenue. Namely, outside the four walls of full-service restaurants.

Steps taken to increase revenue

  • Adding more off-premises ordering options (takeout, delivery, etc.): 46 percent
  • Adding more modifications/add-on options for an extra charge (say, giving guests a chance to add a certain topping for a set fee): 45 percent
  • Introducing new promotions/specials: 44 percent
  • Introducing new technologies or changing existing tech providers: 42 percent
  • Raising menu prices: 41 percent
  • Expanding seating capacity (patio included): 41 percent

As an area manager from a bar and grill in Chicago put it in TouchBistro’s report, to raise profits in this operating climate you can either lift prices or find ways to order smarter and reduce waste wherever possible.

All this isn’t to say there’s no greenspace, though. If anything, operators are looking further into expansion opportunities to bolster revenue. For instance, catering appears on the verge of a significant reintroduction. Fifty-four percent of restaurants in the survey said they want to add catering services, signaling “this once-lucrative revenue stream may be enjoying a bit of a comeback as some workers return to the office and events are once again held in person,” TouchBistro said.

Physical expansion is on deck, too. Forty-three percent of operators said they plan to add a new location in the coming year and 44 percent hope to add multiple new locations.

Next up on the list of growth opportunities was adding a virtual brand or ghost outlet at 35 percent. Franchising the business followed at 32 percent and 6 percent said they weren’t planning on expanding in any form.

The labor view

TouchBistro said the age of skeleton-crew restaurants appears behind us. And yet, operators are still mired in the familiar gauntlets of running a cyclical, seasonal business—turnover is rampant, especially at the multi-unit level. Also, emerging from COVID, the incentives needed to keep staff from leaving have muddied.

In 2023, 18 percent of restaurateurs in the survey said they were not short any positions. That marked a sizable improvement from 2022, when only 3 percent of operators noted the same.

However, it also means 82 percent of operators are short at least a few staff members. On average, restaurants said they were thin roughly four positions this past year (it was five the prior year). This go-around, the toughest positions to fill were dishwashers and chefs. In 2022, it was bartenders and line cooks.

Staffing shortages by position

Dishwashers

  • 2023: 34 percent
  • 2022: 24 percent

Servers

  • 2023: 28 percent
  • 2022: 19 percent

Chefs

  • 2023: 28 percent
  • 2022: 22 percent

Bartenders

  • 2023: 21 percent
  • 2022: 30 percent

Line cooks

  • 2023: 24 percent
  • 2022: 28 percent

Managers

  • 2023: 22 percent
  • 2022: 25 percent

Prep cooks

  • 2023: 19 percent
  • 2022: 23 percent

Hosts

  • 2023: 18 percent
  • 2022: 17 percent

TouchBistro’s data found wages and benefits among the key reasons restaurants are enjoying more-staffed venues of late. Pre-COVID, there was a seemingly endless debate around the race to $15 and whether or not regulators or the market should set that floor. In a lot of ways, the pandemic, expanded unemployment benefits during crisis times, efforts to rehire, and what the workforce looks like on the other side, advanced that conversation past its old talking points. David Brugnoli, owner and chef of Angeletto in New York City, said that while minimum wage in NYC is $15 per hour, “nobody comes to work for that.”

“Even the dishwashers—you have to give someone at least $17 to come and wash the dishes. Otherwise nobody comes,” he said in the report.

Sixty-four percent of operators said they stay competitive on labor by paying higher wages and 59 percent shared they do so by offering benefits. Both numbers were up from 2022.

And when operators are in need of help, an overwhelming number said they turn to social media. Half now claim to rely on social to recruit fresh staff members. That was followed by job sites (44 percent) and referrals (45 percent).

How operators are staying competitive

Wages

  • 2023: 64 percent
  • 2022: 59 percent
  • 2021: 54 percent

Benefits

  • 2023: 59 percent
  • 2022: 38 percent
  • 2021: 57 percent

Professional development opportunities

  • 2023: 44 percent
  • 2022: 49 percent
  • 2021: 39 percent

Culture

  • 2023: 42 percent
  • 2022: 41 percent
  • 2021: 37 percent

On the turnover front, operators in TouchBistro’s report stated average employee turnover rates of 28 percent.

  • 21–30 percent: 25 percent
  • 11–20 percent: 23 percent
  • Less than 10 percent: 17 percent
  • 31–40 percent: 14 percent
  • 41–50 percent: 9 percent
  • 51–60 percent and over 61 percent: 6 percent apiece

As noted, multi-unit restaurants with five to 20 units had a tougher time with turnover—the average bumped to 34 percent. Restaurants with sub-five locations were at 25 percent.

“It’s very tough to find the people and then have them stay. After a week, somebody will say, ‘This doesn’t work for me, I’m going to go somewhere else.’ So we have a lot of in and out—big turnover. I’ve spoken to other people in the industry regarding hiring and it’s the same problem. People moving in and out [of the industry],” Brugnoli added.

TouchBistro said one culprit for an unchanged turnover rate, year-over-year, could be the reality the average amount of training hours staff members received saw a fairly significant drop. Operators reported front-of-house staff garnered an average of six hours of training in 2023, down from 7.3 hours in 2022. Likewise, restaurants said back-of-house workers received an average of 6.3 hours of training. That was 6.9 in 2022.

This shift reflected in the average cost of training a new staff member. It fell 8 percent from $3,959 in 2022 to $3,646 in 2023. So are restaurants training less as a cost-cutting measure? “While operators may appreciate the short-term cost savings that come with reducing training times, the fact that turnover remains so high suggests that less training may not be the most effective strategy in the long run,” TouchBistro said.

Average cost to train new employees

  • More than $2,000 per: 78 percent
  • $2,000–$5,000 per: 57 percent
  • Less than $2,000 per: 20 percent
  • $5,000 to $10,000 per: 20 percent

Interestingly, amid this broader decline in training, operators stressed increased productivity as one of the leading tools to combat labor costs. This marked a major shift from previous years when the height of the staffing shortage forced operators to rely more on cross-training and repurposing what few members showed up. As for levering tech, multi-unit restaurants were much more likely to do so. Thirty-five percent with five to 20 locations said they were using point-of-sale data to predict scheduling needs versus 26 percent of operators with five or fewer locations.

Methods for reducing labor costs

Increase productivity

  • 2023: 45 percent
  • 2022: 34 percent

Increase staff retention

  • 2023: 36 percent
  • 2022: 29 percent

Reduce hours of operation

  • 2023: 27 percent
  • 2022: 30 percent

Use restaurant scheduling software

  • 2023: 29 percent
  • 2022: 31 percent

Create labor targets

  • 2023: 27 percent
  • 2022: 29 percent

Cross-train/repurpose staff

  • 2023: 29 percent
  • 2022: 38 percent

Use POS data to predict scheduling needs

  • 2023: 29 percent
  • 2022: 33 percent

Reduce staff headcount

  • 2023: 21 percent
  • 2022: N/A percent

What to do about menu and inventory

The cost of food is going up. So are prices. If those are two, relatively accepted realities of today’s industry, where are solutions coming in?

Firstly, there’s little question the cost of serving guests has climbed. Sixty percent of operators in TouchBistro’s report said all or most of their suppliers have raised prices in the past year, up from 50 percent in 2022. Furthermore, the average expenditure on food soared by 41 percent in the past calendar alone.

Proportion of suppliers that increased prices in the past year

  • All of them: 16 percent
  • Most of them: 44 percent
  • Half of them: 21 percent
  • A few of them: 16 percent
  • None: 3 percent

How much are operators spending on food costs?

  • More than 80 percent: 1 percent
  • 51–80 percent: 34 percent
  • 21–50 percent: 46 percent
  • Less than 20 percent: 18 percent

In line, 37 percent of restauraters reported rising food costs and inflation as their biggest inventory challenges ahead. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said navigating ingredient shortages and supply chain disruptors were top setbacks. That was 20 percent in 2022.

Biggest inventory challenges in the past year

  • Rising food costs and inflation: 37 percent
  • Supply and ingredient shortages: 24 percent
  • Food waste: 22 percent
  • Vendor management: 14 percent
  • None: 4 percent

A GM from a family style restaurant in L.A. pointed out a less-talked about kickback of the climate. He shared his restaurant recently removed some low-velocity menu items. Yet the reason they didn’t move wasn’t necessarily because of what they were—but rather how much they cost.

Brugnoli added semolina flour, to highlight a case, used to cost $17.85 in 2019 so the restaurant could make fresh pasta. “Now, I’m paying $42.95 for a 25-pound bag of the same product, same quality,” he said. “Plus, we’ve had problems finding the products.”

In 2022, 53 percent of polled operators reported raising menu prices in the past six months. That leapt to 67 percent last year, suggesting the prior year’s hike wasn’t sufficient to cover the rising cost of expenses.

The good spin, TouchBistro said, is these price increases appear to be slightly smaller than last year. Or put differently, there isn’t as much sticker shock from 2022 to 2023 as there was from 2021 to 2022. Last year, operators reported hiking prices by an average of 13 percent, which was a drop from 15 percent in 2022.

Price increases

  • 10–29 percent increase: 49 percent
  • Less than 10 percent increase: 44 percent
  • More than 30 percent increase: 7 percent

TouchBistro also asked restaurants what reactions they noticed in guest behavior to higher prices. Only 10 percent said there didn’t appear to be any “significant” feedback. So it’s a good bet most guests realize what’s going on.

Changes in customer behavior following menu price increases

  • Customers are tipping less: 34 percent
  • Customers are spending less overall: 33 percent
  • Customers are ordering fewer dishes: 30 percent
  • Fewer customers are visiting during the week: 29 percent
  • Customers are ordering less alcohol: 28 percent
  • Customers are ordering takeout/delivery less frequently: 28 percent
  • Fewer customers are visiting on the weekend: 25 percent
  • No significant change in customer behavior: 10 percent

To appease some concerns, 42 percent of restaurants said they want to add more locally sourced ingredients to menus over the next six months. It’s a move that could entice diners out of their homes, as well as reduce costs.

Other trends:

  • More plant-based, vegan options: 38 percent
  • More gluten-free options: 38 percent
  • More non-alcoholic drink options: 31 percent
  • More paleo options: 30 percent
  • More keto options: 27 percent

Additionally, restaurants said they were looking beyond the core to drive frequency and revenue.

  • Prepared foods: 45 percent
  • Grocery/pantry items: 42 percent
  • Branded merchandise: 39 percent
  • Meal kits or drink kits: 38 percent
  • A subscription service: 31 percent
  • None: 12 percent

Step outside the dining room

The industry has, thankfully, evolved past off-premises as the only raft available. Now, it’s more of a challenge to maintain and grow that side of the business while ensuring dine-in doesn’t suffer. All the while, working to guard a value proposition that can be shaky to grapple with.

Ninety-five percent of operators in the survey said they use at least one online ordering platform. On average, most lean on three.

Thirty-six percent said they host some form of direct-online ordering capability, which rose a touch from 34 percent in 2022.

Restaurants said they’re paying an average of 15 percent on each online order with aggregators. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said it was more than 20 percent.

Commission fees

  • 5 percent or less: 14 percent
  • 6–10 percent: 34 percent
  • 11–20 percent: 27 percent
  • 21–30 percent: 16 percent
  • More than 30 percent: 8 percent

Still, even with the off-premises rush leveling out somewhat, operators said 23 percent of their business today flows through online ordering on average. And restaurants see a 17 percent uptick in overall sales volume after implementing online ordering—a figure that’s sat unchanged since 2022.

Ordering channels, sales breakdown

Dine in

  • 2023: 52 percent
  • 2022: 48 percent

Patio

  • 2023: 24 percent
  • 2022: 24 percent

Delivery

  • 2023: 21 percent
  • 2022: 22 percent

Takeout

  • 2023: 19 percent
  • 2022: 21 percent

Chasing loyalty

The flux of costs has made loyalty more paramount. Restaurants not only need to find ways to attract and engage guests, but to inspire frequency and higher spend. As brands continually attest, rewards users boast higher checks and are more willing to ladder up to premium offerings.

And it begins in a rather simple place—discovery. Seventy-two percent of operators, per TouchBistro, said they currently have a dedicated website. Ninety-four percent added customers can view their restaurant’s menu on the website, which helps table turns seeing as many diners figure out their choices before they arrive.

Facebook and Instagram tend to be popular picks among independent restaurants due to their local and community-specific pages.

Social was also the No. 1 method restaurants said they use to communicate with customers, ranking ahead of email, SMS, and in-app messages. The brands who do use email, however, do so quite often—40 percent reported emailing customers every few days and more than one-in-five (22 percent) said they send emails daily. A sizable 64 percent said they were pulsing personalized offers to guests. That was 55 percent last year, indicating restaurants might just be relying on communication more today considering costs to dine have climbed so steeply.

Methods of communication

  • Social media: 37 percent
  • Email: 26 percent
  • Push notifications: 16 percent
  • In-app messages: 12 percent
  • Push notifications: 7 percent
  • None: 2 percent

One reason social remains at the forefront is cost. Like last year, 37 percent of restaurants cited the high price of marketing services/materials as the lead challenge when it came to marketing. Many also pointed to the difficulty of getting the right message to the right person (22 percent).

“Anecdotally, many operators also lament the time and constant creativity that comes with marketing their venue,” TouchBistro said. “Not only is it tough to come up with new and exciting content on a regular basis, but there are constantly new apps and trends to stay on top of.”

Greatest marketing challenge

  • High cost: 37 percent
  • Difficult targeting the right diners with the right message: 22 percent
  • Trouble measuring the performance/success of marketing campaigns: 19 percent
  • Not enough time to dedicate to marketing efforts: 14 percent

The landscape

  • 67 percent: Currently offer a loyalty program (down from 70 percent in 2022)
  • 77 percent: Of multi-unit restaurants offer a loyalty program
  • 85 percent: Of bistros/cafes offer a loyalty program (this figure was just 56 percent in 2022, showing how the loyalty tide is rising on all fronts)

Of the different loyalty programs available, most operators said they were offering digital platforms.

  • Digital loyalty program: 51 percent
  • Loyalty app: 40 percent
  • Physical loyalty cards: 41 percent
  • Subscription program: 40 percent
  • Punch cards: 29 percent

Loyalty program engagement

  • More than 70 percent: 9 percent
  • 51–70 percent: 44 percent
  • 21–50 percent: 45 percent
  • Less than 20 percent: 2 percent

“On average, operators say about 50 percent of their customers engage with their loyalty program regularly. This is a slight decrease from an average engagement rate of 56 percent last year, signaling that consumers may be a little more conscious of how often they dine out [and how much they’re spending when they do] than the year prior,” TouchBistro said.

Regardless of where loyalty heads, gift cards remain a strong cog for full-serves. Last year, just 33 percent of restaurants reporting selling them. That rose to 48 percent in 2023, with an average gift card value clocking in at $56.

Most common gift card value loaded

  • Less than $30: 33 percent
  • $40–$60: 30 percent
  • $61–$80: 13 percent
  • $81–$100: 16 percent
  • More than $100: 8 percent

Tech solutions

Some of the innovation torrent has settled. For instance, after a banner year for point-of-sale business, operators were more satisficed to stick with their current systems in 2023 versus 2022. Only 36 percent said they purchased a new platform compared to 51 percent a year earlier. TouchBistro said a reason for slower sales could be due to the fact most operators have now upgraded from outdated legacy tech to cloud-based systems. Seventy-six percent reported currently using a cloud-based system. Just 23 percent claimed to rely on a legacy POS.

When evaluating POS platforms, ease of use was the No. 1 consideration. However, price and customer support proved top factors, too. In contrast, availability of third-party software fell to the bottom of must-haves, “which may be due to the fact that many POS systems now offer in-house solutions for most essential functions, rather than rely on third-party integrations,” TouchBistro said.

Top factors considered when choosing a POS

Ease of use

  • 2023: 40 percent
  • 2022: 34 percent
  • 2021: 41 percent

System reliability

  • 2023: 36 percent
  • 2022: 27 percent
  • 2021: 37 percent

Customer support

  • 2023: 33 percent
  • 2022: 33 percent
  • 2021: 30 percent

Price/affordability

  • 2023: 32 percent
  • 2022: 30 percent
  • 2021: 39 percent

Ability to increase sales

  • 2023: 31 percent
  • 2022: 31 percent
  • 2021: 34 percent

POS provides software integrations

  • 2023: 29 percent
  • 2022: 28 percent
  • 2021: 23 percent

Reporting and analytics features

  • 2023: 27 percent
  • 2022: 31 percent
  • 2021: 26 percent

Recommendations/reviews

  • 2023: 24 percent
  • 2022: 27 percent
  • 2021: 27 percent

Training and/or installation time

  • 2023: 23 percent
  • 2022: 30 percent
  • 2021: 23 percent

Third-party software integrations

  • 2023: 22 percent
  • 2022: 30 percent
  • 2021: 18 percent

As POS developments calm, the arena of automation has only begun to gain speed. Across nearly every aspect of operations, restaurants said they were diving in. And those who weren’t yet, were interested to learn more (likely another reaction to costs).

Tasks restaurants have automated

Sending orders to the kitchen

  • Have: 66 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 32 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 2 percent

Staff scheduling

  • Have: 59 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 34 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 7 percent

Inventory

  • Have: 65 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 31 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 4 percent

Email marketing

  • Have: 67 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 30 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 4 percent

Accounting/bookkeeping

  • Have: 65 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 31 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 4 percent

Invoicing

  • Have: 67 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 29 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 4 percent

Payroll

  • Have: 70 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 27 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 3 percent

Online ordering

  • Have: 72 percent
  • Haven’t, but want to: 26 percent
  • Haven’t and don’t want to: 2 percent

Continuing a thread throughout, the biggest barrier to automation for operators was upfront costs. System reliability and ongoing costs were concerns as well. So for vendor partners, helping restaurants see the ROI and ease of use are the building blocks to adoption.

Barriers to implementing automation

  • Upfront costs: 37 percent
  • Concerned with system reliability: 36 percent
  • Ongoing expense: 31 percent
  • Concerned with POS integration: 26 percent
  • Tech seems too complicated: 25 percent
  • Business is too small to justify the cost of adopting the tech: 21 percent
  • Haven’t had the time to research/purchase: 21 percent
  • Don’t have the time to train staff on how to use automation: 17 percent
  • Don’t know what tech to use: 14 percent
  • Don’t know where to begin: 13 percent

Broadly, restaurants are mired in the AI age already. Eighty-nine percent said they’re using some form of AI.

Types of AI used

  • Digital assistants: 35 percent
  • AI chatbots: 34 percent
  • Predictive analytics/reporting: 31 percent
  • Facial detection and/or recognition: 30 percent
  • Optical character recognition: 29 percent
  • Voice recognition: 29 percent
  • AI image generators: 27 percent
  • We are not using AI: 11 percent

Shifting to the universe of payment processing solutions, like last year, operators said they prefer to pair this with POS, with 67 percent opting for an integration solution. There was little patience for high rates or hidden fees. Pricing was the No. 1 frustration this year followed by inadequate customer support and a lack of transparency. Some operators also raised the issue of not being able to take payments when the internet goes down. A lack of offline mode or a reliable backup system was an ongoing source of frustration.

No. 1 frustration with payment processors

High price

  • 2023: 19 percent
  • 2022: 23 percent

The lack of transparency

  • 2023: 17 percent
  • 2022: 23 percent

Vendors/resellers that don’t inspire trust

  • 2023: 17 percent
  • 2022: 17 percent

Customer support

  • 2023: 18 percent
  • 2022: 13 percent

Having to manually enter transactions

  • 2023: 18 percent
  • 2022: 22 percent

Fitting to the rise of dine-in, 75 percent of restaurants in the survey reported taking reservations in 2023. That number fell to 43 percent in 2021. But the tech has cooled. Last year, 81 percent reported using a reservations platform, but 62 percent said the same in 2023. This figure is slightly higher among multi-unit restaurants, with 69 percent of restaurants with five to 20 units using reservations software.

And while 31 percent said that they do not currently have a reservations platform, they are looking to implement one. “This suggests that while the budget for the tech may not be there right now due to slim profit margins, operators do still see the value in using these platforms,” TouchBistro said.

Where reservations are happening

  • 41 percent: Phone
  • 19 percent: Walk-in
  • 12 percent: Google
  • Website: 15 percent
  • Third-party platform: 13 percent

Along with a dip in the use of reservations tech there was a dip in the average cost of reservation systems as well. Operators said they were spending an average of $351.90 per month on their reservations platform in 2023—a figure that represents a 12 percent drop from the year prior when the average cost was $399.60 per month.

Consumer Trends, Feature, Finance, Menu Innovations, Technology