Nine in 10 (90%) restaurateurs in Australia say they plan to expand their businesses in the next 12 months through offering new products or opening additional locations, and 80% report feeling more optimistic about the future of their restaurants, according to Square’s latest Future of Commerce report.

“For businesses, the future is looking cautiously optimistic, and business owners say they’re looking to grow despite diverging consumer economic sentiment. With Square’s ecosystem, businesses can easily expand – whether that means opening a new location or introducing new non-core offerings – while continuing to drive customer loyalty and engagement,” Square head of verticals and platform, Matthew O’Connor said.

In 2024, restaurateurs need to invest in more efficient ways to find and engage customers as half of consumers (49%) predict they’ll order less food delivery in 2024 compared to 2023 – the highest among Gen Z and Millennials.

Diners are looking for a tech-forward approach from eateries with three in five (61%) global consumers supporting the use of AI-based tools, while more than one-quarter of Australians prefer to place their orders via self-serve kiosks.

Restaurateurs are not only investing in AI to address staffing challenges – more established automation tools are also on the agenda. More than half (54%) of surveyed owners plan to increase spending on technology and automation tools in the next 12 months, and three-quarters (76%) of consumers want restaurants to invest in at least one area of automation when they’re not at full staffing capacity.

As restaurant owners look to expand, over three-quarters (77%) of those surveyed say they’ll experiment in the coming year with non-core offerings like meal kits, subscriptions, events, and more. Restaurateurs say that right now, close to one-fifth (19%) of their revenue comes from products and services outside of their core restaurant offerings.

“Automation and AI are going to be key growth levers for restaurants in the coming year, though not in the way you may think. The vast majority of restaurants will be integrating AI into their operations in small, iterative ways – not through flashy robots but through automation in marketing or kitchen workflows – and these minor changes will add up to saved time and more profit,” Square general manager for restaurants, Ming-Tai Huh said.