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The Future of Restaurants in Canada 2021

by Square Canada   |   June 09, 2021   |   Share this:  

In this guide we draw on expert analysis and insight into how restaurants are pivoting to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the food service industry's future.

Table of Contents

The Evolution of Restaurants
Embracing and Humanizing Contactless Dining
Restaurants Reshape Delivery & Takeout
What’s on the Menu? Change.
Streamlining Kitchen Operations
Keeping Your Customers Hungry — In a Good Way
Feed Your Customers More of What They Want with a Smarter Loyalty Program
Canadian Restaurants and the Future of Dining


There’s no denying that the coronavirus has had a terribly disruptive impact on the restaurant industry. Dining rooms looked much different in 2019 than in 2020, and 2021 is proving that more change is on the horizon. Establishments able to pivot fast and roll with the changes are poised to come out on top once the global crisis is over.

In 2020, the list of things in our lives that changed seemed never-ending. On that list was a shift from dining out to ordering for pick-up or delivery. This fueled an instant surge in the need for third-party food delivery apps and delivery drivers. More Canadians were staying home using these platforms for meals throughout 2020—but still, the question is: Will this continue once COVID-19 is long behind us?

Some ways Canadian restaurateurs are evolving include:

  • Implementing kitchen automation technology
  • Offering touch-free ordering and payment options
  • Selling items not currently part of their menus, such as PPE or ready-to-cook meals
  • Offering or upgrading customer loyalty programs
  • Implementing or upgrading the website or creating an app for delivery
  • Experimenting with menu offerings
  • Switching from a physical menu to a digital one

Many restaurant owners remain anxious about the coming months. But what began in 2020 out of necessity could become an exciting future of restaurant industry developments. It’s a new era. Making efficient changes today for frictionless customer experiences tomorrow means saying goodbye to the idea of a singular stream of revenue.

Recommended Viewing:

  • See the intimate viewpoints of restaurant owners across Canada and their reactions to how COVID-19 changed their industry in this video from OneTable.

  • Technomic tells us what they expect to be the future in Canada in this pre-recorded webinar (registration required).

Let’s look at how the restaurant industry aims to meet diners where they are, embrace new advancements, and build loyal communities.

The Evolution of Restaurants

Food is a universal language—everyone knows and loves it. Plus, there’s simply no other activity that offers the same type of social interaction inherent in restaurant dining, whether it’s fast food or a full-service venue. Even as many owners and customers have put safety on the front burner and focused more on curbside pickup or delivery, the relationship between a restaurant and its customers remains an unbreakable bond. Now owners are looking for new technology to remain connected.

Going out to eat isn’t just about the meal—it’s an exciting experience. Customers share both life-defining moments and simple everyday routines with the establishments they frequent. The global pandemic may have changed how this looks, but it hasn’t removed the importance of restaurants in people’s lives. Restaurants are merely evolving.

Customers have helped several Canadian dining establishments remain open by accepting new types of experiences, whether on-premise or off, and delivery and curbside options. For some restaurants, outdoor seating became a way to keep customers coming while also promising fresh, clean air. Some owners even debuted. For customers, this meant the ability to still frequent the establishments and dining experiences they love. For owners, it was the ability to remain open in the face of adversity.

However, not all provinces were happy with the idea that diners would still congregate despite social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

So, restaurants have a challenge to meet. There must be an evolution in how they conduct business and remain connected to their customers and the communities they’re a part of.

Some of the most important changes to how restaurants can meet the public halfway include:

  • Using technology. Bundling things like POS and customer orders with payroll and scheduling can help owners manage the entire restaurant from one simple app, letting them keep their focus on their customers and the overall dining experience.

  • Collaboration. Consider working together with other restaurants in your community to work from one location, such as a shared kitchen, or purchase items in bulk together for deeper discounts on the items you already need.

  • Creating new customer experiences. Instead of keeping things traditional, think outside the burger box and consider new trends, such as drive-in dining, take-and-make meal boxes, or other special events.

Some restaurants in the country have already begun implementing some of the above, as these options work well with the changes brought on by COVID, like curbside pickup and delivery and the increase of contactless interaction. Multiple revenue streams are possible with integrated kitchen technology.

Embracing and Humanizing Contactless Dining

Dining out is an experience that’s always changing. While restaurants have traditionally operated on a thin margin, COVID forced owners to rethink their strategies and pivot in order to survive. It’s a delicate dance, and many establishments across the nation have executed quite brilliantly.

While some restaurants already had some touch-free tech in their establishments, embracing this on a larger scale has totally changed how restaurants do business. This shift isn’t likely to end. For instance, more restaurants are considering adopting additional touch-free technology throughout 2021, such as contactless credit card payment acceptance and digital menus using either web-based or QR code ordering ability. Restaurants adopting digital menus may even eliminate physical menus.

Dining out will never entirely lose its human element of interaction. The adoption of digital and contactless abilities could help establishments maintain the human restaurant experience while more efficiently turning tables and saving on labour and other costs, such as the printing costs of physical menus.

Mandy Wolfe and her sister, Rebecca, own eight restaurants in Montreal. In an interview with Business Development Canada (BDC), Mandy stated: “I think we’re still going to heavily rely on delivery and technology. People can order on the app and come to pick up,” in reference to how COVID has affected how they serve their customers. “This is the new normal.”

In the coming years, ordering in-restaurant, at the table, will still be part of the restaurant experience. But most consumers may still choose digital ordering and payment from their smartphone. There’s never—until now—been technology available that costs an establishment no overhead, saves money, improves customer experiences, reduces the number of ordering errors, and even increases employee tips.

Square offers a self-service order solution that lets your customers scan QR codes at the table, in the drive-thru, at a walk-up window, or from home for fast, easy, and error-proof orders and payments right from mobile devices. Using Square’s system, your customers’ orders get sent straight to your POS and to the kitchen’s order display system—just the same as if your front-of-house staff had entered the orders from your onsite POS—with better accuracy, greater safety, and improved convenience.


Protocols of the pandemic era continue

The pandemic required dining establishments to implement changes in the best interests of staff and customers. Just a few aspects of today’s day-in-the-life of a typical restaurant include:

  • Staff wearing masks and gloves
  • Six feet of space between tables
  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Temperature checks of staff and patrons
  • Sanitizer stations

Due to ongoing reopening guidelines, such as those for food establishments within Ontario, Canadian restaurant owners shouldn’t expect these efforts will go away anytime soon.

Restaurants Reshape Delivery and Takeout

Not all restaurants offered takeout or delivery prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic forced many businesses to reconsider that decision. Owners have found that the shift was a welcome one, and it’s here to stay. In fact, delivery revenue in Canada is expected to reach over $2.1 billion in 2021, with a majority of restaurant owners entirely dependent on this revenue stream. Services, such as those provided by the food industry, were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

It’s not enough to simply say they’ll embrace this shift. Restaurant owners understand that offering online ordering capability and takeout means having a digital infrastructure in place for customer orders and payments, as well as the requisite number of delivery staff and accompanying resources. Owners can choose to integrate a third-party app like Skip the Dishes directly on the restaurant’s website or build their own.

In an effort to keep costs low for customers and revenues as high as possible, most owners prefer opting for this service on their own site with their own app. A lot of customers feel the same, as it directly supports their restaurants of choice rather than a third-party, unrelated company.

With Square’s On-Demand Delivery, you can offer third-party delivery integration right on your website, but without commission fees. It’s easy to manage your customer delivery orders in one place while gleaning valuable insight from the resulting data. It’s also simple to enroll delivery customers in your loyalty program. This offers more control over how you engage with your customers, your marketing efforts, and your loyalty programs. This service could become vital to your overall operations.

Some of the reasons customers prefer ordering their delivery items directly from a restaurant include:

  • Directly supports their restaurant of choice
  • Negates third-party service fees
  • Delivery is faster
  • Offers direct access to restaurant promotions

Sure, a third-party delivery app can offer extended marketing, but there are other ways you can market your restaurant, such as:

  • Keeping all touchpoints connected. There’s never been a more important time to have your own online presence, and this goes further than a simple website. You probably have many touchpoints across the web already. In addition to your site, you likely have social media pages, email newsletters, and reviews online. Plus, that presence is discoverable through simple online search. Keeping all these touchpoints consistent builds your brand and increases discoverability.
  • Being active on your social media pages. Facebook and Twitter are both great places to have conversations, but an Instagram page is perfect for the restaurant industry. Not only can you drive conversations and sales, but consistent updates and photos of your dishes—and even of your staff in action—helps win customers and sales. If you don’t know the perfect time for posts, consider posting near lunchtime or other times when your regular patrons normally visit and may be scrolling their device to find their next meal.
  • Keeping business listings updated. Your business information is the most important of all data that are available to the public. Keeping your business’s name, address, and phone number information updated ensures you never miss a customer or a sale. Some of the most important places your business information should be listed include Google for Business, Facebook, Yelp, and the Yellow Pages—and Foursquare doesn’t hurt. Keep your listings updated across these platforms and you’ll boost your search engine visibility, too.

What’s on the Menu? Change.

If there’s anything that’s constant in life and in the restaurant business, it’s change. A blanketed embracing of takeout and delivery has allowed restaurant operators to reimagine the restaurant industry and how they offer food service to the public. In fact, some owners are considering changing their menus. Some may cut certain items entirely, or totally revamp their dishes in the coming year. With over 20% of Canadian diners opting for healthier foods as a part of a diet regimen, new menu items like meal kits could serve this growing trend.

Restaurant owners are learning as they go. Forced to operate within thinner margins during the pandemic, many have tested new menu items. While some restaurants had been considering adopting new items or cutting dishes, pressures from the pandemic made certain menu changes necessary.

As the concept of post-COVID dining returns to a semblance of pre-pandemic times, diners’ preferences will still continue evolving, and so should you. Maybe your establishment didn’t offer delivery prior to COVID-19, but it likely is now and should remain so. Some other things you can think about in this ever-evolving climate include:

  • Limiting menu options
  • Offering new dishes
  • Completely changing your menu
  • Offering different options for current menu items, such as half orders or family-sized portions

Adapting is simply the new reality.

Streamlining Kitchen Operations

Up to now, we have explained how making certain changes can grow your restaurant and keep your customers safe and happy. But what does this actually look like in practice? If you want to create opportunities for multiple streams of revenue and offer more creative experiences, you must tighten up the back office. In other words, streamline the operations in your kitchen. Restaurants are embracing new digital technology to help improve these internal workings. How can you do the same?

It starts with an impressive team… Your entire staff is your team. When you assemble your crew or add members, there’s a lot to consider. For instance, look for staff who are adaptable. How trainable are your team members with new tech or process adoption?

The ability to think on your toes is crucial in a kitchen, especially during sudden rushes. Team members who are adaptable and provide a much-needed morale boost help keep staff working like a well-oiled machine. It might sound like an exaggeration, but customers really can taste the difference between happy and unhappy kitchen staff.

With access to updated technology… It’s not just due to the pandemic—the dining industry is constantly evolving. Longstanding restaurants might hesitate to adopt new tools or processes. But staying competitive in this industry means offering your staff access to the best cutting-edge solutions, such as updated point-of-sale and payment systems that offer regular feature updates. Streamlined back office operations let your employees focus on what’s most important: your customers. This focus even helps boost customer loyalty.

And increased communication… Communication is key, and nowhere else is this more evident than in a kitchen during a lunch rush. A restaurant’s most common communication breakdown occurs between the front of the house and the kitchen. You might not think it’s visible, but customers often pick up on this disconnect.

kitchen display system with built-in communication tools helps to reduce the chaos of miscommunication. Plus, a point-of-sale that integrates every aspect of your restaurant, such as online orders and inventory levels, offers you a real-time glimpse into operations.

With simple delivery and takeout processes… There was a time when takeout or delivery was a small percentage of your orders if you even had these options. Today, takeout and delivery aren’t only non-negotiable, but likely a majority of your sales.

It can be hard enough for kitchen staff to handle in-house customers. Taking care to prepare and properly time takeout and delivery orders can throw a wrench in the whole mix. The right tools and processes are essential. With Square’s kitchen display system, all of your orders—both in-house and delivery/takeout—are on one, easy-to-read screen.

And clearer orders mean fewer mistakes. Your kitchen staff strives to exceed customer expectations with every order. It’s deflating when a customer sends back an order. While mistakes can happen in any flurry of activity, the right kitchen ordering tools can help minimize errors.

Digital tickets place all your orders on a detailed screen complete with timers and alerts, a vast improvement on paper tickets. And a kitchen display system that integrates with your point-of-sale means you can handle any rush with ease, no matter how many people you are trying to serve. Touch-free order management means your kitchen staff can focus on what they do best—their culinary craft.

Currently, Square is not compatible with the sales recording module (SRM) in Quebec. However, we offer an integration with MYR, which is SRM compatible. MYR integration.


Keeping Your Customers Hungry — In a Good Way

Canada’s restaurant owners continue exploring novel ways to capture their customers’ interests, creating fresh experiences that keep customers returning. Going forward, many owners expect to implement new customer engagement initiatives to keep more business.

For instance, 16% of customers intend to opt for takeout going forward. Owners are therefore looking at ways they can expand and improve the customer experience during curbside pickup—while also minimizing curbside pickup fraud.

Owners may expand options beyond curbside pickup and in-store takeout. While short-term expenses could be high, implementing and offering a drive-through for customer window pickup is another possibility. This offers the ability for customers to retrieve orders face-to-face without leaving their cars.

Onsite, takeout and delivery are just the beginning. Owners across Canada are looking into ways they can reach their customers no matter where they are. Some ideas include:

  • Personalized dining experiences
  • Meal and cocktail kits to-go
  • Pre-made frozen meals
  • Subscription meals
  • Online food preparation classes

Feed Your Customers More of What They Want with a Smarter Loyalty Program

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that loyal customers are the backbone of every industry—including, if not especially, restaurants. Your loyal customers support you in both good times and bad. One of the best ways to reward those fans is by adding new loyalty programs or adding new perks to existing ones.

On its face, a loyalty program may appear like a nice-to-have, not a necessity. But a good loyalty program can provide your restaurant with more than just happy customers. You get to know those customers as well.

In fact, a program that rewards customers can reward your restaurant with valuable information, which you can use to turn into more orders. It can turn casual diners into regular patrons—even if they’re just ordering delivery.

The key is to have an intelligent loyalty program that groups customers by frequency and order habits. Grouping customers by relevance, history, category, or average price-per-order can give you powerful data. You can use that information to boost your bottom line. It can help you market new items or concepts in a more personalized manner to your greatest supporters.

If your industry continues to evolve and reinvent, the one constant is your fierce commitment to supporting your community. According to Bond Brand Loyalty, 64 percent of customers modify what they spend in order to maximize their loyalty points earning capability. Offering a loyalty program to your customers could boost repeat business by as much as 40 percent with Square Loyalty. It seamlessly integrates with other Square products, such as Square Restaurants POS and Square Online. This lets your patrons earn points for their loyalty whether they shop in-person or online.

Consider adding one, some, or all these options to your dining establishment’s offerings to keep your restaurant relevant in these uncertain times.

Canadian Restaurants and the Future of the Restaurant Industry

The dining industry is all about the experience. As a restaurant owner, your determination to provide your customers with fantastic experiences isn’t just about today–it’s an ongoing effort for a future that’s forever evolving.

Putting off tech adoption or operation streamlining can occur no longer. Your competitors are embracing the change. They’re heavily investing, which means you must also do so or face being replaced.

The results of this evolution are already visible. Restaurant owners are launching innovative ways to connect seamlessly with customers. They realize that a customer’s digital experience with their establishment is just as important as the food they order.

The show must go on—every restaurant owner knows this. Mistakes are made, food gets burned, employees don’t show up, and vendors don’t deliver. But you still have a responsibility to your customers. That burning drive helps restaurants not just survive, but thrive.

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