Today, sophisticated online ordering systems and swipe-and-pay key chains are at the forefront of quick-serve innovation. But in five years, those technologies will be commonplace, maybe even passé. To answer the question, “What will quick-service look like in 2030?” QSR consulted more than 20 experts—several from outside the restaurant industry—and asked for their most forward-thinking and imaginative predictions in several aspects of quick-serve operations. Their responses: edible menus and uniforms that sell side items so the employees wearing them don’t have to. And that’s just the beginning.
Just as Bruce Wayne’s Batsuit transforms him from boring billionaire businessman to crime-fighting caped crusader, the restaurant uniform of the future will elevate the average fryer jockey to four-star chef.
OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but 20 years from now, uniforms will be able to do some pretty cool stuff.
“By 2030 we’re going to be thinking so completely different from the way we think today,” says Janice Henry, vice president of design at employment apparel provider Superior Uniform Group. “We have to really climb outside of the box to even imagine what’s going to be going on then.”
Take, for example, scented uniforms. Today, you train your workers to say, “Would you like fries with that?” Tomorrow, the duds will do the work.
“If your customer is passing on dessert but you walk up and smell like apple pie. it might provoke them to order it,” says Michelle Watkins, a technology manager with chemical company DuPont.
Having trouble with crew morale or want to lower the stress level in the back of the house? Choose uniforms infused with pheromones, chemical compounds that can influence human behavior, or soothing aromatherapy.
Experts say all that and more will be possible thanks to advancements in nanotechnology that are allowing scientists to tinker with fibers on the molecular level. Phase-change materials, for instance, will help with temperature control. Basically, nanoparticles bonded to fabrics will change from liquids to solids depending on the surrounding temperature, adjusting the level of insulation in order to keep the wearer comfortable.
Future uniforms could even eliminate the need for laundering with antimicrobials that banish body odor. And forget stain-resistant; the uniforms of tomorrow will be stain-proof. Credit the lotus effect, Watkins says, which mimics the same rough surface that allows the leaves of the lotus flower to effortlessly shed droplets of water.
We can expect other uniform innovations to take their cues from nature, too, says Sean Schmidt, co-founder of the Seattle-based Sustainable Style Foundation. He posits that as the call to conserve resources and protect the planet grows even more insistent, humans will look more and more to blueprints from the plant and animal kingdoms to create greener technology.
“Wicking capability, stainguard, all those things can find examples in nature to accomplish the task in a more sustainable way, so we don’t have to use toxic chemicals,” Schmidt says. “Biomimicry is going to be big.”
From a branding perspective, the future will be a bright place. Embroidered logos could become a thing of the past, replaced by dynamic LED versions embedded in the fabric. Crewmembers will be transformed into walking in-store signage. When an ad campaign or limited-time offer changes, simply reprogram the shirts.
Andy Paige, a stylist on the TLC network television show “10 Years Younger” and author of the fashion guide Style on a Shoestring, believes the current trend of big-name brands partnering with high-end designers to create fashion-forward uniforms will continue.
She also hopes uniforms will become a little less uniform. Paige predicts gender-specific styles and options to suit different body types. “Why not have a variety of choices within a color range so everyone has something to flatter their figure?” she says.
One solution she offers is a hospital scrubs-like design made from recyclable fibers. It would have adjustable tabs and ties to suit the wearer and could be thrown in a recycle bin at the end of the shift.
“It doesn’t need to be washed, it doesn’t need to be dried, and it always looks polished, clean, and crisp,” she says. “Just like a surgeon, every time they come in they can pick up a new one.”
Sound far out? So is the future. — Jamie Hartford