Giving consumers what they want will be crucial for all small businesses in 2012, but particularly for restaurant owners, according to a new industry forecast. Because the recession caused 8 out of 10 consumers to cut back on nonessential spending, it is more important than ever for operators to nudge those guests into spending their discretionary dollars at their restaurants. Setting a place for technology may be one way savvy restaurateurs can lure patrons back to the table.

Consumers have developed a taste for incorporating technology in all parts of their lives, both at work and at play. And, increasingly, that includes where they eat. Although high-tech items such as wireless payment and iPad menus aren’t commonplace just yet, there is strong consumer interest in such options.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 industry forecast, nearly 4 in 10 consumers say they’d be likely to use an electronic ordering system and menus on tablet computers at full-service restaurants. About half said they would use at-table electronic payment options and a restaurant’s smartphone app to view menus and make reservations.

At fast-food restaurants, about 4 out of 10 consumers say they would place online orders for takeout, use in-store self-service kiosks, and use smartphone apps to look at menus and order delivery.

What’s more, email and text messaging are proving to be an effective way for restaurant operators to reach their consumers in today’s always-on, über-connected society. About 3 in 10 of adults said they would like to receive an email with daily specials, while about 1 in 5 prefer text messages with similar information. If a restaurant’s specials were available on Facebook or Twitter, nearly one-third of consumers say they’d be likely to sign up, indicating that social media continues to be a powerful marketing tool.

To further feed consumers’ digital hunger, more than 9 out of 10 restaurant operators said their restaurant will likely be using Facebook in the next year or two, with use of Twitter and smartphone applications expected to be on the rise as well.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

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