NFC technology will put the 'fast' back in 'fast food' (Commentary)

July 18, 2013
NFC technology will put the 'fast' back in 'fast food' (Commentary)

By Robert P. Sabella is founder and CEO of OTA Training LLC

Let's face it: No one enjoys waiting in long lines, scrambling for loose change or trying to locate their plastic (or even paper) rewards card. Wouldn't it be much more convenient to enter a coffeehouse, stroll up to the counter and exit with your cup o' joe in just minutes? The days of opening a wallet or having a waitress punch a hole in your loyalty card are coming to an end. And, who wants to wait in a long checkout line or a drive-thru? Envision a day where you could simply drive through and pick up your food with no hassle. Or as you stroll up to the entry, the restaurant sends the menu via a mobile device courtesy of an NFC touchpoint. You can then just customize your order on your smartphone, submit it and make a mobile payment with a mere tap.

The restaurant industry is seeing the emergence of new near field communication (NFC) solutions providers as well as the launch of mobile applications designed to streamline the dining (and diner's) experience. Inching closer to the "Internet of Things," a world comprised of sensors and touchpoints throughout a restaurant, connecting customers and their NFC-enabled devices. The placement of NFC tags throughout establishments, on smart posters, in storefront windows, and even on menus, will enable customers to check-in via smartphone, to be notified when their table is ready, to receive personalized discounts, to request an appetizer or drink while waiting all through a mobile application. Once seated at their table, restaurant patrons can then tap an NFC tag (or scan a QR code) placed on the menu, table tent or in the coaster. Patrons will then receive special promotional information, nutritional content, request the assistance of the waitress or even have their check delivered, and soon, to make contactless payments.

From a restaurant operator's perspective, NFC will open the door to a number of benefits as well. These include reduced wait times for patrons, easier transactions, enhanced customer analytics and the ability to make real-time decisions regarding seating, staffing and specials. Additionally, NFC will provide restaurant operators and marketers the ability to integrate mobile technology into their social media marketing efforts — real-time Facebook likes and shares, interactive reviews, and customized promotions and sweepstakes.

Mobile payments

Mobile payment deployments in restaurant chains have become a more regular occurrence, ranging from coffee giants Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts to McDonald's, and even in bars. According to a new report from Juniper Research, the NFC retail payments market is set to surpass $180 billion globally by 2017, with North America, Western Europe and the Far East making up 90 percent of the market value. In these geographic regions, more than one in four mobile device users will pay in-store using an NFC-equipped device by 2017.

As further evidence of NFC's growing adoption, in last June's Harris Interactive poll, nearly half of Internet users in Great Britain believed mobile payments would be useful in at least some situations.

Loyalty schemes

Beyond the benefits of contactless payments, NFC offers the ability for these businesses to augment the customer-restaurant relationship. NFC enables the efficient distribution and redemption of relevant and timely mobile coupons and promotions, streamlined social media integration, and real-time collection of data.

Back in the summer of 2011, the Korean Times reported that Korean coffee shop chain Café Bene became the first merchant to introduce an NFC-based coupon system that provided customers with a loyalty "stamp" with each visit. Customers with NFC phones would simply place their handsets close to the NFC touchpad to receive instant coupons for free coffee that they could redeem at their next visit.

In addition to numerous consumer benefits, NFC offers businesses a new and efficient method of tracking of their customer base. Food, retail and hospitality chains that span across the world have begun deploying NFC-based loyalty programs. Mexican QSR Chido has announced that its first restaurant in Paris will feature a mobile loyalty program that will let customers tap their NFC-enabled phones on a tablet with a built-in NFC reader at the register to access the chain's loyalty program.

Last February, Orange UK announced what it dubbed the United Kingdom's "first-ever contactless rewards program." The "Quick Tap Treats" app allowed all Orange customers with NFC-enabled handsets — approximately 200,000 subscribers — to tap, touch or scan any of the specially marked posters at the restaurant chain EAT's 110 establishments to receive a free daily treat.

Customer reviews

The latest form of contactless technology provides restaurant operators the ability to affix NFC tags to its storefront windows and entryways, as well as on guest receipt folders, to encourage mobile users to either post or read the establishment's online reviews, ratings or access other relevant customer content.

For instance, approximately 1,500 restaurants in more than 130 towns throughout France have introduced interactive, NFC-enabled window tags which allow patrons to access customer reviews on the web site, Cityvox, via their mobile device just with a simple tap.

Real world examples

As NFC awareness, education and infrastructure continue to advance, restaurateurs and marketers alike will continue to deploy NFC-enabled programs, ranging from expedited mobile payments to enhanced loyalty and reward schemes. Here are just a few of the most recent chains taking steps toward the deployment of NFC:


Dating back to 2010, the renowned burger giant has been at the forefront of using mobile technology to enhance their patrons' experiences. McDonald's began offering NFC-supported mobile coupons in establishments throughout Japan, where on a weekly basis, McDonald's would send registered members of its Toku promotional program a list of coupons directly to nearly 18 million customers' mobile devices. Recipients could then open the coupon on their smartphone's browser and present the alpha-numeric promotional code to the cashier or add it to their digital wallet.

The deployment of mobile solutions by McDonald's, among many other of its fellow quick-service restaurants, is testament to the soon-to-be frictionless future of dining. With the helping "touch" of AirTag last September, 70 establishments across France (with nearly 1,200 others soon-to-be involved) were able to boost the profitability of its participating franchises. McDonald's "GoMcDo" mobile services allowed customers to use their mobile devices to place orders and pay for them prior to arriving at the restaurant. Patrons simply needed to enter the restaurant, tap, collect and carry-on with their day.


Though they have yet to turn to NFC technology, the Seattle-based coffee chain has exhibited the convenience and ease-of-use of mobile payments following their partnership with Square in more than 7,000 coffeehouses across the United States. Using the mobile service, coffee drinkers can use the iPhone and Android app to make a contactless payment, acquire reward points, build a drink as well as locate a Starbucks within the directory.

Though the mobile service, Pay with Square, is not NFC-enabled, it has demonstrated the integral role mobile payments can play in the restaurant world. Nearly two years following its deployment, the Starbucks mobile app remains the undisputed leader in mobile payments — in terms of user experience, frequency and volume.

Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin' Donuts, has also recently jumped on the mobile payment and loyalty bandwagon. Last August, Dunkin' Donuts debuted its mobile application at a majority of its 7,000 locations throughout the country, which offered patrons the ability to pay via their iPhone or Android device. Following in the footsteps of its competitor Sckstarbu, participants can now purchase coffee and donuts with a scan of a QR code appearing on their smartphone, while also transferring funds from existing gift cards, credit cards or PayPal accounts. Additionally, users can send virtual gift cards to friends via Facebook, email and SMS, as well as obtain nutritional information and nearby store locations.


Though it may be years before we see full-blown deployments, we can expect to witness the emergence of new NFC applications throughout the quick service restaurant industry. With each establishment implementing NFC differently, it won't be a one-size-fits-all program. Rather, operators can consider their consumers' behaviors and activity and develop a program that best suits their customers. From mobile payments to personalized deals, NFC will radically revolutionize the restaurant world we have come to know. NFC will put the "fast" back into fast food.

Sabella is founder and CEO of OTA Training LLC, which provides RFID and NFC training and certification. OTA Training is the creator and producer of the NFC Bootcamp series.

Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social, Trends / Statistics

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