Significant Technology Developments

Significant Technology Developments

Greater focus by restaurant companies on security for wide-area data networks and card-payment processing systems, and on revising policies for internal data-system users. This often was in keeping with requirements of the federal SARBANES-OXLEY ACT OF 2002, in general, and year-end deadlines for compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, or PCI DSS, in particular. Another motivation: avoiding potentially customer-alienating and costly data-system breaches, such as experienced on a large scale by chain retailer TJX Cos. and, to a much lesser extent, by the NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE’S chain of Dartmouth, Mass., in October.

Heightened point-of-sale-system-upgrade activity among chains often spurred by their desire to initiate or improve above-store reporting and analysis, support electronic gift, loyalty and stored-value cards, or comply with PCI DSS.

Acceleration of the movement to centralized or Web-based back-office applications, as chains looked to more easily consolidate enterprise data, give users more access points, simplify software distribution and patching, and stabilize unit-level hardware requirements.

Growth in independent and chain restaurant support of online ordering. Among other news, the three largest U.S. pizza players—PIZZA HUT of Dallas,DOMINO’S of Ann Arbor, Mich., and PAPA JOHN’S of Louisville, Ky.—now accept such orders at all or most of their domestic operations. Domino’s [2] and Papa John’s [3], late in the year, announced widespread support for orders placed using Internet-enabled cellular phones and mobile devices with text messaging capabilities.

Continuation of the trend to deploy or test in-store wireless networking technologies for operator and consumer benefit, including “hot spot” Internet access for guests, and handheld point-of-sale terminals and printers and dining room management tools for restaurant crews. Among other operators, selected franchisees of the DENNY’S family-dining chain based in Spartanburg, S.C., and some stores of the competing Denver-based BAKERS SQUARE chain began multiple- and single-market tests, respectively, of free wireless Internet access for customers.

Increase in the number of restaurant company trials or rollouts of handheld, wireless terminals permitting full-service dining guests to swipe their own payment cards and alleviate concerns about possible card fraud. CARA OPERATIONS LTD. of Mississauga, Ontario, began a systemwide deployment of such technology to its more than 800 full-service restaurants operating under several brands, including SWISS CHALET ROTISSERIE & GRILL and KELSEY’S.

Escalation in foodservice company use of in-store, digital video security systems that are accessible via the Internet or private network and use software to better detect problems. Operators, including CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL INC. of Denver, turned to this technology to monitor stores for best practices in service, as well as to protect margins by reducing theft and limiting liability in cases where employees or customers claimed injury. Fueling the trend were rising operating costs, the greater availability of affordable high-speed Internet or private-network connections, and the falling price of surveillance equipment and related third-party services.

Expansion of the scope of tests of guest self-service kiosks, such as at San Diego-based JACK IN THE BOX, which, as of late fall, fielded one or more kiosks to process customer orders at 30 different locations. On the full-service front, City Pizza in West Palm Beach, Fla., let guests close out tabs at their convenience by installing a self-service kiosk at which checks can be called up and settled using credit cards.

More multiunit operators testing or using remote call centers staffed by specially trained service agents who process the drive-thru orders of multiple restaurants to build sales, reduce customer complaints and free up store personnel for other chores.

Growing momentum of online training as underscored by Oak Brook, Ill.-based MCDONALD’S CORP.’s agreement with the NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION to provide nearly 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s [4] restaurants with online access to the ServSafe Manager Certification Training course and exam. Online training is advocated by many trainers for its support of interactive content and digital record keeping, as well as its low distribution costs compared to printed materials and the ease with which much of it can be updated.

New or intensified marketing by technology vendors of more energy-efficient components or those made with fewer or no hazardous materials signaled vendors’ plans to be part of the “green” revolution and that they are looking for ways to help operators lower their total cost of technology ownership.