Your restaurant’s technology is what allows you to quickly pivot with the many challenges of the operating environment right now – whether that’s managing supply shortages, scheduling staff, accommodating multiple delivery platforms or another aspect of restaurant management. Your online ordering system is a critical piece of your technology stack, both because it is the vehicle your customers use to interact with your brand and because it allows you to adjust to rapid changes in the market. Does your online ordering system allow you to adjust your menu on demand if you’re out of a key ingredient? Does it adjust delivery prices based on how far your customer is from your restaurant? Can it incentivize customers to collect an order from you instead of ordering delivery? Your system should allow you to flex to meet the moment.
Even Starbucks, a brand name synonymous with anticipating and meeting consumer demands, has been facing supply shortages lately. As the New York Times reported recently, the brand has been struggling to source key ingredients in its popular drinks and food items, as well as packaging products. There is likely more of this to come as food distributors look to source new-and-improved ingredients to suit consumer tastes, all while managing factors ranging from labor shortages to disease to extreme weather that can suddenly impact an ingredient’s availability. Your technology is a critical tool to help you minimize your risk of running short on key supplies – or at least be aware of when it’s likely to happen so you can adjust promotions and menu options proactively. For example, your digital supply chain tracking system should allow you to see your network of suppliers, enable you to spot fluctuations in demand in real time, respond to changes in supply forecasts, and place orders as demand requires – as opposed to according to a set schedule. It should also help you spot problems in your supply chain, so if there is a foodborne illness outbreak, you’re better able to respond quickly to sequester the ingredient responsible and source replacements.
The pandemic has pushed restaurant technology several years ahead of where it would be otherwise – and our increased ordering of takeout in the past year has made us more comfortable ordering food on our phones. Could allowing guests to order by phone work for you on-premise as well as off? At a time when labor is scarce, it may be worth considering. During a recent episode of the restaurant webcast The Barron Report, the founders of Branded Strategic Hospitality spoke about how they have invested in their entire tech stack, to include the app Bbot, which enables QR code scanning for ordering from the restaurant. If you have a tech-savvy guests who are just as happy to read a menu on their phone as on a piece of paper, you might try experimenting with QR codes for not only menu review but also ordering.
The past year has changed how restaurants compete. Restaurant success has become less about décor or even brand and more about how smooth, fast and engaging the process of ordering and accepting food is for the consumer. These changes may be permanent. This QSR magazine report predicts a more tech-focused future for the industry – with less differentiation on price across restaurant categories and more differentiation on the efficiency of customer interactions than there has been in the past. That means it’s become all the more important to have digital architecture and a user interface that presents your food in a compelling way, makes it easy and fast to place orders, enables customization to customer preferences, and includes a reliable “last mile” off-premise solution for getting food to customers.
In the past year, you’ve no doubt spent a lot of time perfecting your operation to handle take-out and delivery orders. As pent-up consumer demand now drives people back to restaurant dining rooms, will yours be ready? Managing off-premise and on-premise orders and in-restaurant traffic is likely to challenge operators as businesses reopen to more guests. Technology can help here – by managing in-dining room bookings, coordinating orders coming from many directions and enabling quick communication with staff on days when you need to ramp up or ramp down due to fluctuating demand.
Finally, the restaurant industry is seeing exciting signs of life. So what’s the next challenge? Many operators may experience dramatic shifts in business and demand across different channels as people embrace eating out again, or on the flip side, react to potential infection spikes as states open up. According to a late February survey from the polling organization CivicScience, 53 percent of Americans feel comfortable with the idea of eating at a restaurant, while the remainder are more hesitant. Under those conditions alone – ignoring other factors that affect restaurant business each day – it could be challenging to know how much staff to have on hand or how much food to buy on a given day. The capabilities of your POS system are key to fortifying your business for the new environment. As states open back up for business and warming weather brings people out, make sure your system is, above all, flexible – to different forms of payment, an assortment of order streams, shifting demand within those order streams, and to any new features your restaurant needs to adopt as it evolves. Your system should allow you to oversee business across other locations, whether those locations are similar brick-and-mortar restaurants, ghost kitchens or food trucks. Finally, it should account for varying levels of staff knowledge and training by being easy to learn – and user-friendly when it comes to generating the reports you need to manage real-time business fluctuations.
As the restaurant industry has embraced technologies to smooth out the ordering process, artificial intelligence has grabbed headlines, most recently in the form of a text-to-order tool from the software company HungerRush that promises not only faster ordering without the help of a restaurant app but also the near-elimination of order errors. The use of AI for ordering is in its early stages – existing applications focus more on its use in dynamic menus, inventory integration and consumer marketing – but it may represent where ordering is headed and what areas of improvement operators should focus on. As you analyze the data you collect from sales, how does your speed of processing orders now compare with what it looked like last month and last year? Are there common order errors that occur? Can you identify ways to minimize the amount of time your staff must spend processing orders while still ensuring they come out fast and error-free?
A whopping 91 percent of restaurants plan to invest in kitchen automation technology this year, according to a new survey data from the payments company Square. To be fair, Square is among the players providing back-of-house tech tools in restaurants and retailers, but their research still provides some helpful clues about where back-of-house tech is heading in the near term – and it’s not so much about robotic chefs and servers. The key theme restaurants are focusing on is adopting an efficient hub-and-spoke model where the kitchen is at the center and can seamlessly manage customer orders coming from a growing list of sources, including the curb, the drive-through, the dining room and beyond. This tech can also enhance flexibility by enabling a restaurant to integrate a new channel where needed – or scale back on another.
Preparing food in restaurants has become a juggling act this year – with people behind the scenes regularly throwing new balls into the air. According to a Datassential report, 92 percent of restaurant traffic is now off-premise. Drive-thru orders represent the largest growth category, followed by 23 percent order-ahead, 21 percent delivery and 18 percent to-go. A seemingly quiet kitchen could actually be as busy as a restaurant with a line of customers out the front door. This year, more restaurants will be adopting tools that allow them to monitor the various ways in which orders are coming to them – and adapt more easily to their ebb and flow. A new report on restaurant technology trends to watch in 2021 says smart scheduling and booking technology, as well as automated kitchen operations technology, can help ensure food is ready when customers want it.
Imagine driving home one day and telling the voice-powered assistant in your car to order your favorite pizza from Domino’s so it’s ready for curbside pickup when you drive in. Or asking it to make dinner reservations for your anniversary, which always springs to mind during your morning commute but gets forgotten once you arrive at work. This is A-commerce, or auto commerce, and a new study from Rakuten Ready predicts this new form of initiating transactions will become a growing force for businesses in the next five to 10 years. While A-commerce may sound futuristic, by preparing your business for it now, you can reap benefits in the near term and more easily incorporate it into your business model when it becomes more widespread. The study advises restaurants to start experimenting with simple voice-powered mobile applications and business models now. For example, update your Google My Business account to make sure your restaurant is easily found in local listings. Using geolocation tools, which will be central to A-commerce, can also serve you now by helping you develop and fine-tine your local online marketing plans while streamlining curbside pickups.