Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to gather a group of people for a meal and not have food allergies and intolerances come up in conversation. From gluten sensitivity to lactose intolerance to the need to reduce sodium or sugar intake, there is a broad spectrum of dietary customization to consider. A restaurant that can accommodate consumers’ dietary needs and still provide flavorful dishes will build a loyal following. The customization trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and in fact appears to be deepening: Consider the likes of tech startups like GenoPalate, which the Spoon dubs “Ancestry DNA for your diet.” Like Ancestry DNA, the company uses a swab test to scan for certain genetic markers. Then it uses that information to assess how much of 24 key nutrients a person needs, along with any sensitivities to lactose, gluten, caffeine or alcohol, and then provides a list of foods best suited to the person’s genetic makeup. While one-size-fits-all dining may not exactly be on the way out, there is a significant opportunity for chefs who can provide extreme customization. Can you make it possible for guests to not just substitute gluten-free crust for traditional crust on a pizza, but to empower them to build a meal from scratch (with some guidance) that meets their taste preferences and dietary needs?
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.
As a new year approaches, it’s prime time to take stock of what went well and set the stage for the tests you’re likely to face in 2020. For most operators, labor spending and management continues to be a perennial challenge, along with such obstacles as managing the complexities of your inventory and finding a profitable path to offering delivery. Restaurant365 shared a list of operational challenges operators can expect in the coming year, along with some suggestions on how to manage them. While it’s not the most uplifting of countdowns, it does cover some important territory and may help you prioritize the steps you want to take to build your business in the months ahead. We summarized some of the key challenges here – along with some tech tools that can help you manage them. First, to manage labor costs, particularly if your state is in the roughly half of the country that is increasing its minimum wage in 2020, make the most of tech tools that can save you time and money. By integrating your POS with an accounting and scheduling platform, for example, you can analyze your labor and sales data to optimize scheduling and improve your forecasting capabilities. If you struggle with keeping your inventory accurate and your ingredient costs in line, consider inventory management software that can guide the process from start to finish – and offer tools such as smart ordering and receiving, which can help you maintain profit margins on menu items and pinpoint when vendor costs are higher than normal. Finally, if you want to offer delivery in an effort to meet consumer demand, make sure you’re making data-driven decisions when selecting a service model. Restaurant365 advises you use operations software to automatically calculate and track your delivery profits based on sales, cost of goods sold, and delivery expenses.
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.
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.
Imagine craving your favorite sandwich from a local quick-service restaurant on your way home from work, and as soon as you drive into the lot, the restaurant takes a photo of your license plate and can use that image to pull up past orders you have pre-programmed with them. As a result, you can bypass the drive-thru line of customers who don’t yet know what they want and instead collect your order at a separate window and be on your way. As Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist at restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, told Forbes, “There’s a big profit bump just by shaving seconds off drive-thru orders.” Leaders in the space are catching on ― watch for similar benefits to come from McDonald’s in the wake of its acquisition of Dynamic Yield.
Do you use video to connect with customers and even staff? If not, doing so could pay off. Recent research from Brightcove found that 85 percent of consumers aged 18-34 say they have bought a product or service after watching a video about it. Further, consumers surveyed in the study said they find video to be the most memorable form of content ― they ranked it above display ads, email marketing, case studies, text ads, and other forms of promotion. Videos can help potential guests connect with your brand and share it with their friends, which in turn can boost your search engine optimization. Cake suggests using videos on your website and social media to share a seasonal recipe tutorial, showcase your restaurant’s interior or some interesting aspect of its history, introduce staff members or guests, or promote new food and drink menus. Since video can help people connect with your brand and present you as authentic and trustworthy, it can benefit your staff recruitment efforts too. Showcase your employees ― both in the front and back of house ― going about their daily work and talking about what they like about their jobs, which can help give potential employees a better sense of your restaurant’s work environment than any job description could. Toast suggests you use a gimbal or tripod to ensure your video isn’t wobbly, lighting (inexpensive lighting kits can help), and a microphone or voice-over recording. You can use free software to edit the video you produce and Shutterstock can help you licence royalty-free music for your video if needed. Once you upload your video to YouTube, share its link on your website job page, job applications and your social media platforms.
A restaurant server taking an order could have ample reason to avoid upselling a guest: Perhaps the guest or the server is in a hurry, for example, or the guest seems decisive about what he wants (or doesn’t want) to order. Valyant AI is trying to help operators avoid those scenarios. At the recent Restaurant Technology Summit in New York, artificial intelligence (AI) was used to show how restaurants can provide the human touch without missing out on opportunities to upsell. Restaurant Business reports that Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and the burger chain Good Times are testing an AI system from Valyant AI that converses with guests placing an order and never misses an opportunity to upsell. Valyant’s CEO said the system once successfully upsold 23 percent of the orders it took in a day.
If you’re on the fence about offering tabletop technology at your restaurant, consider this: tabletop tech can improve sales by 1 percent per check and reduce meal duration by 10 percent, increasing sales per minute by 11 percent. That’s according to soon-to-be-published research from the business schools at Southern Methodist University and the University of Pennsylvania that studied 2.6 million transactions at a U.S. restaurant chain with 66 locations. The lead researchers of the study said the technology can help operators compensate for shortfalls in their ability to offer excellent table service, as well as give operators a financial leg up on competition.
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?