Tech trends restaurant operators should watch

Tech trends restaurant operators should watch

Experts reveal the technology most likely to shape the restaurant business and draw consumers in the coming years.

Better and cheaper computer processing, data storage and data transmission capabilities will mean big changes are in store for foodservice technology by 2020, said Daniel Burrus, founder and chief executive of Burrus Research Associates Inc. and author of “Technotrends: How to Use Technology to Go Beyond Your Competition” and “Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible.”

“It’s all very easy to track,” Burrus said, projecting that by 2020 there will be wearable devices that enter and manage guests’ spoken meal orders using “intelligent agent” software akin to Apple’s virtual aide, Siri, on steroids. “The question is, which restaurant or which restaurant chain is going to decide to use it first?”

But even as technology evolves, hospitality will remain key, said Geoff Alexander, executive vice president and managing partner for the Wow Bao quick-service Asian restaurant group at Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc.

“What I am really looking forward to is ‘hospitality’ via tech,” he said. “It has to be about enhancing the customer experience, not just making my life [as an operator] easier.”

Here are more predictions for 2020:

McDonald's kiosk in Amsterdam
Guest self-ordering will become even more prevalent in the future, experts said.

Guest self-ordering at counter- and full-service concepts will be done either online prior to arriving or on-site via tabletop interface, consumer smartphone or tablet, or by kiosk, according to several industry observers.

 “These technologies would leverage historical purchasing habits based on a profile, [with] suggestive selling tied back into user preferences and modeling of the restaurant product offering to enhance the customer experience,” said Phil Crawford, chief information officer for My Fit Foods Inc. in Austin, Texas. “[Combine] that data with emerging GPS and geolocate technology, and now you can entice those previous visitors to come back more often by customizing messaging.”

Mobile point-of-sale devices will be used by a significant percentage of employees at all but high-end restaurants as costs decline, maintenance options increase and operators seek greater operational efficiency and flexibility, said Lee Holman, lead retail analyst at IHL Group in Franklin, Tenn.

Such devices include tablets; ruggedized, special-purpose terminals; smartphones; iPod Touches; and wearable printers, he said.

Getting smarter

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Increased interaction with guests through their smartphones and other personal devices will mean enhanced customer relationship management and business intelligence capabilities, observers said.

Smartphone users infographic

Digital wallets or other alternative payment schemes will be used in restaurants, said Joe Tenczar, senior vice president of information technology and chief information officer for Hard Rock International in Orlando, Fla. In addition, improved mobile device menu presentations will include more information, such as nutrition and ingredient details. Geo-targeting for prospective customers and loyalty program members also is likely by 2020, he said.

Next-generation mobile apps will continue to serve consumers even when they are not in the issuing brand’s restaurants by providing such value-added touches as recipes or preparation technique videos for home cooks, or food-and-wine pairings, Burrus said. These will prove “stickier” than single-purpose apps and will foster better relationships with guests while providing a direct connection with consumers through which special offers and other marketing messages can be relayed, he said.

• In the front of the house at some restaurants, biometric scanners, video cameras and other hardware supporting voice, retina or face recognition software programs will help service teams quickly identify repeat guests or loyalty program members, or simplify guest self-log-in for rewards tracking or redemption.

“In the U.S. in the next two to three years, I hope to see face recognition [capabilities] at the host stand,” Wow Bao’s Alexander said.

“Customer relationship management continues to be high on the lists of anyone seeking to serve their clients, [and] it may take the form of mature license plate identification at the valet, which triggers a favorite table preparation and drink setup for high-end patrons,” said IHL’s Holman.

Moving forward

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Digital menu and marketing boards designed around the one-to-many presentation principle will be replaced in some quick-service and fast-casual restaurants, or augmented in others, by systems that customize food images, information and incentives based on consumers’ preferences, Burrus said. These unique messages will be streamed to the smartphone screens of anyone who, on entering the establishment, downloads its proprietary mobile app.

“Interactive feedback from guests to the restaurant in real time is going to be extremely productive in the future, [and] not just via social media engines and online surveys, but [through] direct access to floor management and kitchen management [using] guests’ personal mobile devices,” said Crawford of My Fit Foods. “It is the futuristic way of [managers] ‘touching tables.’”

• Greater adoption of handheld technology for inventories, temperature measurements and other functions will mark restaurant back-of-the-house operations, where paper will be eliminated from the hiring process, predicted Eric Rosenzweig, chief information officer for Sweet Tomatoes and Souplantation parent Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. in San Diego.

Hard Rock’s Tenczar said he envisions 2020 back-of-the-house systems as being more focused on energy management and better able to capture and use all manner of  restaurant data, including check and seating information.

Order preparation management systems for the kitchen — with count-down timers, plate assembly images and component-firing instructions — will be more sophisticated and, with headset communications devices linking the order expediter with the cooking line and waitstaff, will prove critical for food-quality control.

“I believe this [expediter] position is now — with the tech in place — the most important position,” said Brian Sill, president of Deterministics Inc. in Bellevue, Wash. “It is the pivot post of quality control and timing of all orders at the point where the whole of everyone’s efforts is most vulnerable and can make or break the business.”

Tablet table
By 2020 some restaurants may be converting entire table tops into touch-screen devices.

“Wireless [networking] will be ubiquitous” and “in-store training will be done with low-cost tablets,” Garden Fresh’s Rosenzweig said. “I think you’ll see switch back from a lot of cloud offerings to more on-premise [systems] due to the total cost of ownership of technology in the cloud.”

• “We will see, because the price will be low enough, that not all, but many restaurants will make the entire tabletop a touch-screen [device],” Burrus said. “So if little kids want to draw, they can have all the colors and all the drawings right there because all they will have to do is mark out a little square where they are sitting. I could see the meals [offered] and, in some cases, I could do ordering right from there, if I wanted to.”

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [6].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN [7].