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.
What’s the next big thing in restaurant technology? Instead of kitchen gadgets and inventory software, 2020 may usher in the softer side of tech if expert predictions are correct. David Cantu, cofounder and chief customer officer of HotSchedules, foe one, told QSR Magazine that he anticipates more operators will harness technology to attract, retain and develop employees. Think tools to bring greater ease and efficiency to scheduling, enable better communication across the team, and encourage the sharing of feedback about a shift and the overall work environment.
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.
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?
Watch for food waste reduction to be a key focus of restaurant technology innovation in the coming year. Beyond POS system features that help operators manage inventory and ordering functions to minimize waste, your business may benefit from tech-driven appliances that can help you repurpose or reduce the waste you generate. QSR Magazine reports that food waste digesters and dehydrators are two possibilities. Digesters, which can take in a broader variety of food than a home compost bin would, break down food (sometimes with the help of a fermenting additive that speeds decomposition) to create a rich compost that can be used in gardens. Dehydrators use mechanical and thermal technology to reduce the weight, volume and even the smell of the food waste that must be hauled away.
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.