Posted: 28 Jan. 2020 12 min. read

Changing appetites: How consumers, technology, and outside competitors are transforming restaurants and health systems

by Hanna Patterson, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Sitting at a traffic light in Denver a couple months ago, I noticed that a once-popular chain restaurant had permanently closed its doors. I hadn’t been there in years, and I wasn’t surprised. Consumer preferences are changing, and restaurants are trying to adapt.

This got me thinking about the parallels between the restaurant industry and some of the changes rippling through the health sector. Between 2019 and 2023, restaurant delivery is projected to grow at three times the rate of on-premises sales, with the majority going to digital orders.1 Although this trend does not end the need for physical restaurants, it has pushed the restaurant industry to adapt to new customer preferences. Hospital systems are also responding to changes in consumer preferences. Some of them are investing in virtual care and building outpatient facilities rather than adding more inpatient beds.2

I recently shared this restaurant/health care analogy with the leadership of a pediatric hospital. I explained that in both industries, change is being driven by increasingly convenience-focused consumers, new technologies, and tech-savvy consumer-focused companies that are moving in from the outside. After a few minutes, I noticed several heads bobbing in agreement. Just as some people might not want to wait in line for a table, they agreed that most parents probably don’t want to haul their kid into a hospital or clinic if all they need is an amoxicillin prescription to treat a throat infection, for example. Such routine care could be accomplished via virtual visit and, in the future, drones might deliver prescriptions to the home…just as robotic vehicles are beginning to make food deliveries for restaurants in some areas.3

Industry disruption is on the menu

From restaurants to health systems, customers are voting with their wallet and are demanding digital access, convenience, and transparency. Here’s a look at several parallels I’ve noticed between restaurants and the health sector:

  •  Restaurants without tables/hospitals without beds: A growing number of restaurants are dedicating more resources to delivery services. Some restaurants have no dine-in option at all. Celebrity Chef Rachael Ray recently teamed up with Florida-based Reef Technology to launch a chain of virtual restaurants in 13 cities in the US and Canada. Delivery-only kitchens set up in shipping containers are strategically positioned in parking facilities around a city. Kitchen staff in these so-called ghost kitchens prepare about a dozen recipes from Ray’s new cookbook and deliver them.4 Mess Hall, a five-year-old culinary incubator, operates four commercial kitchens out of a converted warehouse in Washington, D.C. The kitchens are available around the clock via membership.5

    Mercy Virtual Care Center, a four-year-old, gleaming glass and steel hospital outside of St. Louis, has four floors bustling with 850 nurses, doctors, technicians, and other personnel. What it doesn’t have is patients…at least not inside the facility. All of Mercy’s patients are seen virtually by specialists and other clinicians who meet with their patients electronically through remote real-time video appointments.6

  • From Bolognese to blood work: Dine-at-home options have expanded far beyond pizza and Chinese takeout. Food delivery platforms have democratized the restaurant sector. While I can use a restaurant’s app to order dinner, I can also use a food delivery app to access a restaurant’s menu and place an order. At-home options are also expanding in the health sector. We have entered an era where everything from a person’s ancestry to his or her microbiome can be deciphered from the genetic information contained on a cotton swab or in a drop of blood. A growing awareness about the health benefits of preventive care and early diagnosis is helping fuel demand for at-home diagnostic tools that can detect an array of illnesses and conditions.7

  • A side of artificial intelligence: Some restaurant groups are using machine learning and predictive algorithms to forecast demand using historical trend data, weather, local and national events, holidays, traffic patterns, even construction near a restaurant to determine how many diners are likely to arrive on any given night.8 This allows chefs and restaurant managers to staff appropriately and spend more time engaging with their customers. Physicians, like chefs, are adapting to a new business model, and are interacting with their patients/customers differently. Along with applications in diagnosis and personalized medicine, machine learning has the potential to speed drug discovery and manufacturing, create more inclusive clinical trials, improve the accuracy of radiology and radiotherapy diagnoses and treatments, and predict epidemic outbreaks. The technology could help physicians manage larger patient groups and provide care behind the scenes by looking at algorithms and identifying issues remotely.

  • Sophisticated palates and patients: Cooking shows, online tutorials, and new types of dining experiences have helped to create a new generation of educated foodies who understand various styles of cooking, different types of ingredients, and new flavor combinations. Similarly, consumers have access to detailed medical information, which makes it possible to have more-informed discussions with their physicians when making medical decisions. Patients want access now, with the transparency of the credentials of their health care provider, and the ownership of their health data.

The health care industry is facing some of the same consumer-led drivers of change that the restaurant industry began to feel several years ago. Restaurants—like hospitals and health systems—are asset intensive, brick-and-mortar industries. Both sectors are working to reconcile capital investments with trends that rely less on physical space and more on personalization.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to a nice restaurant from time to time, or even a fast-casual place. But sometimes I don’t want to stand in line or wait on hold for a reservation… or even turn on my stove at home. Similarly, there will always be people who need to see a specialist or who want to have a face-to-face conversation with their doctor. Our health care appetites are changing, and health systems should continue to explore ways to keep their customers satisfied.


1. Meals on Wheels: The Digital Ordering and Delivery Restaurant Revolution, L.E.K Consulting, February 2019
2. Deloitte 2019 Global Health Care Outlook
3. If you’re a college student, the robots are coming for you and they’re bringing food, USA Today, November 23, 2019
4. Reef Technology is putting virtual restaurants in parking garages, Nation’s Restaurant News, November 21, 2019
7. At-home diagnostic tools give medical device manufacturers a new way to connect with consumers , September 25, 2018, Deloitte
8. How Artificial Intelligence is Reshaping the Restaurant World, QSR Magazine, December 2018

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