The metaverse is still in its early stages and consumers –and operators – may not fully understand it. But could the virtual world people access in the metaverse have real-world potential for restaurants? New research from PYMNTS and Paytronix found that it could, particularly among grab-and-go customers. Of the consumers surveyed who already participate in the metaverse or are interested in it, 38 percent said they would be willing to integrate restaurant purchases into this environment, including 51 percent of grab-and-go customers. Greater clarity about the connection between food and the metaverse may increase those numbers: A combined 21 percent of consumers surveyed who said they are not interested in buying food in the metaverse said it’s because they are either unfamiliar with it or think it is complicated. If you’re curious to see how the restaurant-metaverse connection evolves, or to understand it better, consider Chipotle, which is launching a Burrito Builder on the gaming platform Roblox. Players of Roblox can build burritos virtually to earn Burrito Bucks, then exchange that virtual currency for real food at a Chipotle restaurant. Marketing Dive reports that IHOP is tapping into the metaverse with a virtual loyalty program that allows users to earn digital PanCoins that can be exchanged for real-world pancakes. The startup Tablz has also developed a reservations technology that allows guests to virtually tour a restaurant and select their preferred table when making a reservation – something that could help enhance a dinner out on a special occasion.
It seems that with each passing week, more restaurant brands – both new and established – are preparing for a future in which our actions in the metaverse, the fast-developing virtual reality world, can help us enjoy restaurant meals in reality. Panera and McDonald’s are among the larger restaurant brands that have invested in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that serve as virtual currency. In the not-too-distant future, it could be possible for a person to, say, play a video game in the metaverse in which they walk into a virtual restaurant, place a Panera order, and then have it arrive on their (real-life doorstep) within a period of minutes. To be sure, this is not a future that every restaurant will see in its business plan. But this merging of virtual and real worlds is something for every restaurant operator to think about because it creates a new dimension in the experience of eating in a restaurant. It will change the competitive landscape and provide new ways for restaurants to establish and promote their brands. Even if you’re not planning to dip your toe into the metaverse, think about your restaurant’s online presence. How can you make it a more authentic, brand-elevating expression of the experience you offer in your dining room?