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.
How seamless is the smartphone ordering experience you offer customers? Between 2015 and 2018, the percentage of consumers who ordered food via smartphone or mobile app more than tripled, according to a report from Grit Daily, and research from Business Insider Intelligence predicts mobile orders will comprise 11 percent of all quick-service sales this year. Enabling voice ordering – which is on the rise in other areas of ecommerce – may help to set your business apart. A presentation from Mastercard at the National Restaurant Association show last year reported that of the 74 million Americans who use smart speakers every month, 62 percent of them have used voice ordering to purchase retail items but less than 8 percent have purchased food and beverage. Considering the room for growth, voice ordering is likely to be among the next improvements mobile apps offer to make ordering food as easy as asking Alexa to play your favorite song.
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.
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.
If you’re looking to steer your restaurant away from third-party delivery this year – whether due to the expense, customer data ownership, development of your in-house technology or some combination of the above, you will need to find a way to bring customers to you online while third-party delivery companies try to compete for their business. Noah Glass, founder and CEO of the mobile and online food ordering platform Olo, said restaurants need to take steps to protect their territory amid the rise of delivery companies and ghost kitchens. He told Forbes that one of the simplest steps restaurant operators can take to protect themselves and ensure customers find them via the restaurant’s app and website is to use a non-compete agreement that prevents third-party vendors from bidding on certain brand-related keywords used in online searches. Such agreements can prevent vendors from redirecting online traffic that would otherwise go to your restaurant.
Are you generating the greatest possible benefit from your POS system? Particularly during periods when sales are lagging, it can help to be able to automatically pull detailed business data to help you understand the factors that are driving your business and how you might need to adjust them. If you have an integrated system, for instance, you can quickly assemble reports of your sales, average check totals and staff costs. As Toast reports, some systems let you compare time periods, as well as peak sales by hour and menu item. You can use that information to develop specials and promotions at the right times and have the ideal number of staff on hand to help.
Don’t fear introducing artificial intelligence (AI) at your restaurant – especially if it keeps the cost of menu items downs or streamlines the ordering process. Those were two key takeaways of a recent survey of more than 2,000 adults about consumer perceptions about quick-service and fast-casual restaurants. The survey, which was conducted this past September by the Harris Poll for the ad-tech firm AdTheorant, found that 71 percent of respondents would be amenable to these restaurants using AI in their business, particularly if it controlled costs (43 percent) or sped up the ordering process (43 percent). Those factors came in ahead of AI’s ability to offer “personalized food recommendations based on previous orders” (22 percent) but that may change once consumers gain more experience with the small but growing number of brands – McDonald’s among them – that are rolling out personalization technology.