The new technology coming to market holds lots of promise for streamlining orders, payments and data. But those capabilities are only as powerful as your weakest tech tools. If you’re still using elements of legacy systems from over 20 years ago, any benefits of new tech will be limited. Aiming for a cloud-based POS will help you adapt and upgrade more easily in the future, minimize any downtimes and boost your security – and you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. According to Upserve, many third-party vendors have cloud-based apps that allow you to maintain your rewards and promotions planning from legacy systems.
At the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, Technomic’s Joe Pawlak had some good news about key segments of the restaurant industry (and less-great news about another) – namely that business for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants had returned to pre-pandemic levels, but fine dining was still three years away from a full recovery. To be sure, the technology that has kept businesses going during the pandemic has been a closer fit for limited-service restaurants. However, many of the tech tools that have been used to elevate efficiency and hospitality these past two years still apply to full-service restaurants, albeit in different ways. In a recent episode of the webcast Restaurants Redefined from Modern Restaurant Management, three industry professionals weighed in on how they see technology evolving for restaurants after the pandemic – particularly for full-service restaurants. At the front of the house, for example, technology can help ease some of the friction points. What if a restaurant could use geofencing technology to identify when a guest arrives and get a jump on preparing their favorite appetizer or having their usual wine on the table as they sit down? While a full-service restaurant might not want to use a QR code for guest ordering, offering a code (or other app-based option) for paying the bill when the guest is ready to depart could improve the overall experience. Empowering a server to offer a refund or other check adjustment on the spot as needed via tech tools can also boost service. At the back of the house, technology that minimizes human interaction – ovens, grills and other appliances that don’t require much human oversight – will help free up staff to elevate guests’ experience at the front of house. Finding ways to adapt the technology available – not so much to minimize human contact but to improve the human contact that full-service is known for – might just help hasten the recovery of these businesses.
If your restaurant has added a drive-thru or simply has more customers forming a line outside your door to place and collect orders these days, consider extending your wi-fi coverage to the area surrounding your facility. By having your staff walk back through the line to take orders and payments, you can not only cut wait times but also gain an opportunity to upsell your menu to hungry customers.
Make way for automation
The pandemic has triggered what many journalists have dubbed the Great Resignation – an exodus of employees from the restaurant industry (and well beyond it) who are demanding better pay and more flexibility in response to the challenges of the times. In the short term, restaurant operators desperate for help in serving guests may bend to some of these pressures. But with the long-term sustainability of offering such benefits in question, restaurant brands have accelerated their investments in automation. To be sure, the human element is still an important aspect of service for many restaurants, but amid the current labor shortages, high employee turnover and increased concerns over safety and working conditions, why wouldn’t an operator be tempted to bring in a robot that never needs a break, complains, gets sick or asks for a raise? While quick-service restaurants are a natural place for this to begin, the automation trend won’t stop with them. What’s more, the lessons quick-service brands learn (and the degree of profitability they generate) as a result are likely to motivate restaurants across the board to incorporate automation in new ways. A recent Forbes report pointed to automation efforts already well underway at McDonald’s (AI-powered drive-thrus), White Castle (robotic fry cooks), Domino’s (robotic delivery through Nuro) and Taco Bell (fast touch-screen ordering and pickup with minimal interaction with staff), to name just a few. The accelerated adoption of automation could also accelerate its financial accessibility to industry segments beyond quick service. Where might your business most benefit from automation? Look for more opportunities to adopt it in the New Year.
Unless you are especially tech savvy, your IT budget may fall into the “set it and forget it” category: You know you need restaurant management technology and Internet connectivity but you may not have the time to dissect exactly where your technology dollars are going. But the landscape is becoming more competitive for restaurant technology and it’s a good time for an audit. A recent report from TekEfficient says there are a lot of opportunities to save money in a tech budget. It advises operators look into price drops and/or new competition offering promotional rates. Also try negotiating how much you get for the same (or a lower) price – such as faster Internet speeds at a reduced rate.
The past 18 months have changed the game for restaurant technology. Many new brands have entered the market, while existing companies have faced a more competitive landscape. As a result, the market for restaurant tech is all the more dizzying this year for operators looking to upgrade tools and systems or adopt new ones. The Restaurant Tech Ecosystem Map, an annual collaboration involving The Spoon, TechTable and Culterra Capital, can help cut through the clutter by identifying key brands across a variety of specific functional areas in restaurant tech. Here is the latest map for your reference.
To be sure, the restaurant industry had been heading in the direction of increased automation and decreased labor before the pandemic. But the acceleration of restaurant technology that we have seen in the past 18 months – along with the increase in already-high employee turnover rates in the industry – has only elevated the need for restaurant operators to find solutions to labor challenges and the technology to help manage them. McDonald’s, for one, is tapping into artificial intelligence to manage restaurant labor and to-go service. After testing AI technology in its drive thrus in Chicago this summer (and getting about 85 percent of orders correct), the brand is now partnering with IBM to deploy AI-powered drive-thrus more broadly across the brand. Meanwhile, Starbucks has partnered with Amazon to launch a cashierless coffee shop in New York City, with additional outlets in the works. At a time when labor challenges are so elevated, major chains have become the early adopters of potential solutions to address them. At the same time, they will be managing the growing pains that accompany them, potentially making the transition to such technology more seamless for smaller brands in the future.
The evolution of restaurant technology in the past 18 months hasn’t been just about the streamlining of the ordering and payment of food, but also about the development of food to meet the moment. (And the moment, for so many restaurants, seems to be about perfecting the off-premise dining experience.) Simplot, for one, has launched a new kind of French fry that doesn’t get soggy and limp during delivery and is microwave-reheatable. Now is prime time to assess your menu to ensure everything travels and reheats well – and to keep an eye on up-and-coming additions in food products and packaging. They could change the game for your takeout and delivery menu by having it more closely reflect the in-dining room eating experience.
As supply-chain challenges continue to put pressure on prices, restaurant operators looking to make a profit – or to simply stay in business – need to understand the health of their business in small detail. While a POS system can collect reams of data about a business, the information won’t do much good if the operator doesn’t give the system the right prompts or know how to translate the information it collects into actionable insights. Your data can’t be a substitute for your own knowledge about your business. A recent webinar from Speedline Solutions covered how to use your POS to get to the heart of your objectives – and though the advice applies regardless of what kind of system you’re using, it starts with being able to ask some specific questions about your business (then leaning on your systems for help in answering them). Consider setting a general goal and then drilling down on it to get as specific as you can. For example, if you start by asking yourself how you can increase the amount of your average check, identify a more specific question you can ask: How can you entice more people to add the appetizer special to their order? If you’re wondering if you can raise your prices, how much you might be able to increase the price of your best-selling menu item before the price turns people away?
While restaurant technology had been steadily gaining ground before Covid, it appears to have changed many processes for good. During a recent online discussion presented by the National Restaurant Association, industry leaders weighed in on the most important tech-enabled shifts that have become permanent in the past two years. Among them are the online cashless ecosystem for restaurants – it’s now a customer expectation to be able to order via an app or a delivery service, no cash needed. Flexibility to order/collect via multiple channels has also become critical – and technology is key to helping your staff juggle all of those streams simultaneously. Finally, tech continues to fine-tune our capability to order and pay at the table. (So despite the pushback that QR codes get from some guests, the flexibility and speed they offer operator and guest alike may give them staying power.)