Consumers don’t consider technology to be an eliminator of jobs but rather a means of improving convenience – and restaurants are investing in more of such customer-facing technology solutions this year. These were key tech-related takeaways from the National Restaurant Association’s latest state-of-the-industry report. When it comes to customer-facing tech, kiosks and other self-service technology still pay dividends. Their biggest benefit may be speed – by visibly reducing congestion and automating orders, they expedite the order process and shorten lines – but this technology is also winning consumers over for its ability to customize. The proof is in the payment: The convenience that kiosks provide can lead guests to spend 15 to 20 percent more per order, according to Pymts.com. #restauranttech
What if running a profitable restaurant became less about analyzing databases and spreadsheets and more about following AI-generated directions? That’s increasingly becoming a reality for some restaurants. In a recent roundup from Modern Restaurant Management about major disruptions to expect in the coming decade, AI applications were among the major changes industry insiders expect. David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for Capriotti’s, sees increasing potential for video to work hand-in-hand with AI – using facial recognition to identify guests and connect them with loyalty programs, reducing theft by video monitoring, and improving employee performance by monitoring their actions and providing on-the-spot upselling and service advice. #restauranttech
Despite recent news about bans on cash-free (i.e. app- or card-based) payment requirements at restaurants in New York and other states, there is plenty of momentum pushing restaurants toward even more seamless, tech-based payment systems. Software companies like PopID, for example, are providing artificial intelligence-enabled facial-recognition platforms that can not only process payment rapidly but also recognize a customer – then quickly pull up previous orders, which are often repeated at quick-service restaurants. Payments Journal reports that the result at CaliBurger, a brand using the technology, has been shorter lines and compressed ordering times.
Mobile loyalty apps will have a significant impact on the industry this year. That was the sentiment of 31 percent of respondents to a recent TD Bank survey of 254 owners, operators and executives of independent and franchised multi-unit restaurants. A separate survey from TrendSource found that diners are more interested in using a restaurant’s app for delivery and pick-up than a third-party app. Part of what makes restaurant-branded mobile apps an easy win for restaurants is that whether you operate a food truck, pop-up restaurant or fine-dining restaurant, there is mobile app functionality that can ease ordering and payment, deliver customized promotions and build loyalty – and at accessible price points.
Watch for digital inventory management systems to take a big step forward this year. Amid the push to reduce waste and simplify menus in an effort to ease labor costs, new digital systems – used in conjunction with point-of-sale systems – are bringing real-time accuracy to inventory management. These systems can track raw ingredients used in menu items based on the shipments arriving at the restaurant and the dishes actually sold in the restaurant, App Institute reports. By being able to access real-time data in that level of detail, restaurants can automate reorders and avoid running out of ingredients, making manual inventory systems an increasingly clear liability for a business.
A recent Technomic report, “Harnessing Technology to Drive Off-Premise Sales,” found that when consumers are ordering restaurant food, 60 percent of the time they are ordering it for off-premise consumption – whether at their home, office, or other location convenient to them. However, there still isn’t a smooth connection between what consumers want and what restaurants currently provide, particularly when it comes to technology. While there are certainly outliers – Taco Bell, for one, is tapping into artificial intelligence to deliver a more personalized in-app ordering experience – Technomic’s report found that 56 percent of consumers want to be able to order delivery from a restaurant’s website, but only 45 percent of operators offer the option. Similarly, 43 percent of those who order delivery do so via a restaurant’s app, but only 18 percent of operators offer that option. More broadly, consumers expressed an interest in having more ordering flexibility via technology than they currently have: For example, 31 percent of consumers said they would like to be able to place a food order via a smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo, but only 12 percent of operators make that possible. As you consider new technology – or how to adapt your restaurant service model for off-premise sales – are you aware of how your guests want to connect with you and how you can best facilitate those connections?
Who hasn’t had the experience of trying in vain to catch a server’s eye to ask for the check after a meal? Mobile payment isn’t just for your online orders. If you’re looking for ways to improve the experience your restaurant delivers for guests, whether they eat with you or take their food to go, consider the process you require them to go through to pay for an order. While speedy payment is helpful in any category of restaurant, it can ease a major pain point in full-service restaurants or other establishments that take payment following a meal. Consumers are likely to use mobile payment more frequently in the next few years: Research from emarketer forecasts that by 2023, 80 million people – or about 34 percent of smartphone users – will be making mobile payments, up from 59 million in 2018.
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.