Any technology you introduce to make the process of ordering and managing guest inquiries is only good if it delivers the experience your guests want from you. But how should your restaurant evolve when one guest wants to order via a smartphone without any human interaction and another with a serious food allergy takes comfort in speaking with a human when placing an order? Restaurant tech is available to create the sort of VIP experience you want to provide, no matter your guest preferences. Consider Chipotle, which has been generating positive news in recent months for its automated digital ordering experience. As Forbes reports, SNQ3 Restaurant Solutions provides Chipotle’s voice-ordering system, which automates online, app and phone orders and allows customers to choose the kind of interaction they prefer. In response, the system can rapidly process reorders, greet a returning customer by name, and, if a customer has questions or concerns that the voice bot can’t accommodate, a live agent is there to help as back-up.
A recent study by NCR and Technomic found that two-thirds of restaurant operators don’t use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their businesses. The respondents said that if they were to invest in AI, it would be to help drive their mobile ordering, mobile applications and promotions. The restaurant operators surveyed who aren’t yet using AI said they either don’t fully understand its potential benefits or they hesitate to invest in emerging technology. Where do you stand? If you’re among the hold-outs who think AI may have some potential to help your business, imagine being to your most loyal guests what Netflix or Spotify are to people who love movies and music – having the ability to match your guests with meals they may not have considered but are likely to enjoy. AI can both empower your ordering functionality and make it seamless. As a report in Restaurant Technology News explains, on top of allowing a guest to order via mobile app, AI technology can offer functionality like conversational ordering through Facebook Messenger or Alexa. Having voice and chatbot ordering powered by AI can allow your customers to use any kind of phrasing when they place an order. Then, based on a person’s ordering history and cross-comparisons with other customers who have similar tastes, the technology can suggest meals and upsell additional items they are likely to enjoy – instead of leaving those guest experiences to chance.
Do you feel social media posting pressure? The need to post regularly to stay relevant can cause restaurant operators to focus too much on social media networks and neglect their website, which is the one place where you have full control over content (and is therefore where your online focus should be). Does your restaurant’s website tick all of the boxes when it comes to attracting visitors and giving them what they need? The Digital Restaurant suggests all restaurant websites have five features: First, you (likely) need a mobile-friendly design with mobile analytics, since most people are probably finding you with a mobile device. Just check Google Analytics first to confirm that your site is getting a lot of traffic from mobile devices before you invest in new design. Make sure your restaurant’s basic information is updated and complete. It should include your address and directions, operating hours, menu and nutritional information, phone number and email address/contact form. Next, ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads pages quickly and has a design that complements the design of your physical restaurant. Sites like https://www.usertesting.com/ can provide objective feedback about the experience of navigating your website. Four, provide some testimonials and social proof that other guests have had great experiences with you. That means integrating links to your social media networks and showing positive reviews from sites like Yelp. Finally, email continues to be the way to keep your guest connections strong, so provide links to subscribe to your email list – via a pop-up invitation and in relevant places on your site. Of course, once you have those basics down, you can continue to fine-tune your site with engaging photos, location-based personalization, online ordering and reservations, search engine optimization, and content marketing such as recipes, videos, articles or other content about your food, staff, values or other topics designed to help guests connect with your brand.
As technology has changed restaurant processes ranging from reservation taking to appliance monitoring, the process of managing inventory can seem analog in comparison, with many operators still relying on such quaint technology as the phone and fax machine when sourcing ingredients. But as Tech Crunch reports, the startup Choco is looking to change that by bringing the seamlessness of food delivery to ingredient ordering via a mobile ordering platform. Choco’s interface allows for operators to consult a list of ingredients that they can order with a tap – and to text suppliers as needed (though it appears operators would still need to separately manage ongoing ingredient changes before ordering). Choco reports that its platform is currently available in 15 cities in Europe and the U.S.
The number of internet-enabled devices is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025, or more than triple the number of such devices in use by the end of 2018, according to the technology firm ITProPortal. A technology-driven restaurant owner can adopt internet-enabled devices to monitor and manage everything from the operation’s food waste to its energy use. While these devices promise significant cost savings and efficiencies, their access to your data creates new points of vulnerability. It is increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches as threats become more sophisticated and employees who aren’t adequately trained leave a business exposed to threats. To help manage such threats, the tech security firm ControlScan advises operators to use next-generation firewalls to limit entry points for malware, and to use a managed security service provider that can identify vulnerabilities in a network, investigate and report security breaches, and troubleshoot other network security problems. Whether you outsource your network security or not, being able to keep tabs on your network in those ways is becoming increasingly important as businesses across sectors find that it’s not a question of if a security event will occur, but when.
If you have ever visited a bakery at the end of the day and scored some steeply discounted bread, you might appreciate an app like Feedback, which helps restaurants with extra meals on hand at the end of the day connect with hungry consumers. Pymts.com reports that the app uses a dynamic pricing model, so a restaurant might charge $10 for a salad at the start of the day but then adjust the discount based on demand throughout the afternoon. While the app is based in Canada and hasn’t yet made it to the U.S., it offers a more universal lesson on how harnessing data about what you’re selling each day can give you tools to help you run business more efficiently, limit waste, and even attract some new customers. The developer behind the app was inspired to pursue the idea when he was presented with the opportunity to buy discounted pizzas at the end of a restaurant shift. How can you use your tech to connect your extra food supply with guests?
The purpose of restaurant apps is evolving. According to research from App Annie, Gen Z, as compared with other generations, is 30 percent more engaged in apps that aren’t about gaming and other forms of entertainment. Instead, they value apps that are key to the mobile checkout process and help to keep them loyal to and engaged in a brand. Last year, Americans overall spent 140 percent more time in food and drink apps than they did during the two years prior to that. While there are certainly more apps joining the market that help account for that growth, operators are also becoming more savvy about guest engagement. Connecting with consumers and elevating their level of engagement is less about having an app that entertains and more about providing a simple, relevant, customizable experience whether the person is accessing the restaurant online or in person.
Adopting new technology for your restaurant may seem like a necessary evil — the initial investment can be substantial, there are multiple pieces and functions to consider, and it’s impossible to know how quickly the popular tech tool of the moment will become obsolete. Still, the numbers show clearly that restaurants that don’t adopt technology will be left behind. Operators from brands including Wings Etc., Fazoli’s and Your Pie have struggled with this dilemma and they addressed it at the recent Restaurant Franchise & Innovation Summit in Louisville. According to a report in Kiosk Marketplace, the leaders emphasized that operators feeling vexed over tech decisions aren’t alone. The best way to make progress, they agreed, is to focus on doing one thing (or a few small things) well and then gradually improving upon those efforts. Zero in on your biggest pain points or opportunities: Your Pie has set out to perfect its AdWord campaigns to find the right customers, while Fazoli’s has focused on building upon its data-rich loyalty program. For whichever tech tools you decide to focus on, create a broader strategy that considers all of your stakeholders and spells out how they might contribute to (and benefit from) your success.
The real power may lie not with restaurants but with the delivery apps and food delivery companies that help them get their food to consumers. That’s the implication of two recent reports in the Wall Street Journal, which indicate that these companies are poised to move away from traditional introductory offers and toward subscription-model services designed to entice consumers into becoming habitual “superusers.” At a time when millennial consumers are believed to lack loyalty, delivery providers have noticed that offering a one-time discount won’t translate to follow-up business. How does your delivery provider entice customers to return regularly? DoorDash, one provider offering a subscription program, says it has more than 30,000 users signing up each week for their service. It now leads the online food delivery market in total consumer spending.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.