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
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.
As labor costs escalate, how are you ensuring you have the right number of employees scheduled at the right times? More brands are adopting artificial intelligence-based programs to help with scheduling. Domino’s, for one, has been testing an AI algorithm to help ensure they are using the most efficient number of staff hours in their stores, Restaurant Dive reports. As major cities enact predictive scheduling laws designed to ensure a fair work week for employees – Widget Brain reports that New York, San Francisco and Seattle are among them – finding ways to use AI to forecast labor demand, and then build and fill schedules, can help operators not only maximize labor expenditures but also comply with the law.
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.
At the speed technology is evolving, data breaches are becoming increasingly common – and the costs can cripple a business: Transaction Resources estimates that the average small business pays $36,000 to $50,000 for a single data breach. While the various points of connection within your restaurant – from your POS to the sensors monitoring the functioning of your appliances – can improve your efficiency, they may also make your business more vulnerable to cyber threats. To get a handle on your restaurant’s risks, consider using the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework for Critical Infrastructure. Restaurant365 reports that many restaurants are using the framework, which takes you through a five-step process to identify, protect, detect, respond and recover from an incident.
Amid the restaurant industry’s struggles to retain staff – and cover the costs of employee turnover – some brands are trying to broaden their reach when it comes to hiring new staff, all while saving time in the process. Tapping into technology can help. McDonald’s, which has made announcements in recent months about promoting greater gender balance and diversity in its workforce, recently began using artificial intelligence-powered software called Textio to craft job postings and write recruitment emails designed to appeal to a more diverse audience, QSR Magazine reports. Five Guys is also among the brands using AI to screen and interview potential candidates, according to Glassdoor.
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.