“When you look where 5G will end up taking us, it’s a whole other world for the retail and restaurant space.” That’s what Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist at the global restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, told Forbes recently. 5G, the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, promises such benefits of data upload and download speeds that are 10 to 20 times faster – speeds that could transform the technology capabilities of restaurants. AT&T sees the greatest potential for 5G in restaurants in three areas: It can significantly reduce latency (or, in other words, the time delay between when you take an action when using technology and when you receive a response), provide a boost to computing power across applications, and deliver sharp increases in speed (think of a file that currently take seven minutes to download taking just eight seconds). In practice, consider being able to use Internet of Things sensors to more efficiently track food waste in your kitchen, or to be alerted exactly when the local high school’s football game ends and you’re likely to get a post-game rush. 5G may help streamline how your POS system communicates with your third-party delivery vendors, or bring a higher level of content personalization to your menu boards, customer text messages or loyalty program promotions. These capabilities certainly exist today, but they work only as well as the network delivering them. The major internet service providers have been launching 5G in major cities throughout this year and will continue to spread the service – check with your provider for the launch timelines for your area.
Imagine craving your favorite sandwich from a local quick-service restaurant on your way home from work, and as soon as you drive into the lot, the restaurant takes a photo of your license plate and can use that image to pull up past orders you have pre-programmed with them. As a result, you can bypass the drive-thru line of customers who don’t yet know what they want and instead collect your order at a separate window and be on your way. As Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist at restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, told Forbes, “There’s a big profit bump just by shaving seconds off drive-thru orders.” Leaders in the space are catching on ― watch for similar benefits to come from McDonald’s in the wake of its acquisition of Dynamic Yield.
Across industries in the U.S., labor productivity has effectively doubled over the past 30 years, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the foodservice industry has been among the slowest to grow, at about 80 percent below the national average and ranking just below the post office and just above the mining industry in productivity. The food and beverage strategy firm Aaron Allen & Associates points to one culprit holding the industry’s productivity back: restaurants’ slow adoption of new technologies. The company says the next five years will be more disruptive to foodservice operators than the past 50 years have been, and slow adopters of technology are likely to be left behind. Specifically, technology is making the restaurant experience more and more frictionless for customers and operators alike: Once a consumer gets used to ordering his favorite take-away meal with merely a couple of taps on his phone, then automatically earning loyalty points redeemable for this item at the times of the week when he craves it most, he won’t want to give up that experience. Similarly, once an operator is using tech to monitor everything from the most popular menu items to the functionality of appliances, she has time to focus on providing better customer service, connecting with staff or even scaling up the business. While these updates can be difficult to transition to for an older operation used to managing business more conventionally, restaurant startups are launching with this technology already embedded into their business models ― and it’s giving them a clear advantage when competing with more established brands.
Do you use video to connect with customers and even staff? If not, doing so could pay off. Recent research from Brightcove found that 85 percent of consumers aged 18-34 say they have bought a product or service after watching a video about it. Further, consumers surveyed in the study said they find video to be the most memorable form of content ― they ranked it above display ads, email marketing, case studies, text ads, and other forms of promotion. Videos can help potential guests connect with your brand and share it with their friends, which in turn can boost your search engine optimization. Cake suggests using videos on your website and social media to share a seasonal recipe tutorial, showcase your restaurant’s interior or some interesting aspect of its history, introduce staff members or guests, or promote new food and drink menus. Since video can help people connect with your brand and present you as authentic and trustworthy, it can benefit your staff recruitment efforts too. Showcase your employees ― both in the front and back of house ― going about their daily work and talking about what they like about their jobs, which can help give potential employees a better sense of your restaurant’s work environment than any job description could. Toast suggests you use a gimbal or tripod to ensure your video isn’t wobbly, lighting (inexpensive lighting kits can help), and a microphone or voice-over recording. You can use free software to edit the video you produce and Shutterstock can help you licence royalty-free music for your video if needed. Once you upload your video to YouTube, share its link on your website job page, job applications and your social media platforms.
A restaurant server taking an order could have ample reason to avoid upselling a guest: Perhaps the guest or the server is in a hurry, for example, or the guest seems decisive about what he wants (or doesn’t want) to order. Valyant AI is trying to help operators avoid those scenarios. At the recent Restaurant Technology Summit in New York, artificial intelligence (AI) was used to show how restaurants can provide the human touch without missing out on opportunities to upsell. Restaurant Business reports that Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and the burger chain Good Times are testing an AI system from Valyant AI that converses with guests placing an order and never misses an opportunity to upsell. Valyant’s CEO said the system once successfully upsold 23 percent of the orders it took in a day.
At Winsight’s September FSTEC conference, where restaurant operators gathered to hear about up-and-coming developments in technology, voice recognition showed special potential as a tech tool to watch – particularly for its back-of-house functions. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice recognition as an everyday convenience – emarketer predicts that more than one-third of the U.S. population will use a voice assistant monthly this year, up 9.5 percent from 2018. That has paved the way for voice recognition becoming more common as a means of enabling consumers to place orders more efficiently from home and on the road (note McDonald’s new purchase of Apprente, a startup building technology to automate voice ordering in multiple languages, which McDonald’s could implement in its drive thru, mobile and kiosk ordering). Voice recognition’s applications beyond ordering have been slower to develop, but that is now changing, according to Restaurant Business. Presenters at FSTEC identified such uses of voice recognition technology as providing food preparation instructions for kitchen staff who aren’t able to leave their stations to look at a recipe or search for directions on a computer screen. Chowly CEO Sterling Douglass said while there is still a long way for restaurants to go when using voice recognition at the back of the house for this purpose, those that are using it with human backup are already seeing 50 percent reductions in cost. For operators looking for additional ways to operate with smaller teams or otherwise cut labor costs, voice recognition could be an additional tool in their toolbox.
How easy is it for your employees to check their email via the POS device they use at your restaurant? This happens to be among the most common ways that malware can infiltrate a restaurant’s systems, according to Restaurant Nuts. As cybercrime grows in sophistication, attacks will become more difficult to prevent, but you can take some steps to protect your systems. First, make your expectations clear with employees regarding how they should be using your systems (including what, if any, personal use is allowed) and how to avoid accidental malware downloads. Assign each server a different login code so if a breach occurs, you can track transaction data and more easily identify if problems have occurred during a particular employee’s shift. Beyond your employees, use password managers and two-factor authentication where possible to protect online accounts, as well as firewalls that separate different functions of your business so if a breach occurs, you might be able to limit the damage it can do.
If the restaurant tech landscape doesn’t quite working for your business yet, just wait five minutes and you’re likely to find technology that does. One possible example is the recent partnership of Waitbusters and Postmates. Waitbusters started out as a tech company aiming at eliminating wait times at restaurants but it is now evolving in an effort to work with restaurants that don’t want to hire delivery drivers and also don’t want to pay the high fees charged by many third-party delivery providers. It has integrated its Digital Diner software platform with Postmates and allows operators to turn on the Postmates delivery function when they need it and turn it off when they don’t. This helps eliminate the costs of using an entire third-party delivery platform while giving operators access to off-premise options they may need.
Self-service kiosks remain an important vehicle for reaching and understanding consumers. Research from Tillster found that more than 65 percent of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if it used self-service kiosks and 30 percent said they prefer to order via a kiosk instead of a cashier if the lines were of equal length. While kiosks have helped restaurant operators save on labor costs, watch for much more to come from them. As the CEO of the kiosk company TRAY told AgFunder, the value of kiosks in the years ahead will be more about taking customer personalization (and therefore service) to the next level. With a swipe of a credit card, a consumer will be able to pull up a personalized menu based on what is popular at the restaurant and what meals he has ordered at other restaurants.
You’re likely using your restaurant’s internet connection to process orders, access customer data, monitor the functioning or your kitchen appliances, and communicate with employees, vendors and guests, among many other functions. If your connection suddenly fails, would you be able to operate your business? Using failover technology as a backup connection can help ensure your Internet connection is never interrupted. RocketBroadband is one company that works with restaurants to prevent internet blips. It also offers a mobile connectivity option that may suit restaurants running food trucks or stalls at offsite events where it’s necessary to process payments apart from the restaurant’s usual internet connection.