Editor’s note: The author is editor in chief of The Schechter Report, and a veteran journalist who has covered the foodservice industry, especially equipment news and information, for more than 20 years. The content here does not necessarily reflect the views of Nation’s Restaurant News.
Communicating with foodservice customers has evolved swiftly from greeting them at the door and describing the day’s specials to texting, tweeting, updating social networking sites and turning menu displays into virtual libraries of information. And, along with this development, has come a new understanding of the sorts of “equipment” operators need to run their restaurants successfully. We used to limit the definition of foodservice equipment to products that fit into the holding, cooking, presentation and service categories. Now, however, the tools available to restaurateurs and foodservice operators encompass a much broader array.
Tablet computers, such as the iPad, are rapidly being adapted in operations of all kinds. With the ongoing development of new apps, they are being used for everything from managing inventories to taking orders and receiving customer payments. Some operators also employ tablets to present wine lists and wine-food pairings, while others use handheld devices to communicate nutritional information, foods’ sources and preparation methods. Most recently, operators have turned to tablets to provide staff training, specifically to help employees learn about the ingredients in different menu items and to provide updates on product availability.
Some entrepreneurial operators have begun installing computer kiosks in the front of the house that allow customers to customize their orders, check recipes for potential allergens and pre-pay their meals. These operators report that such equipment helps to cut labor costs and improves their brands’ reputation and perceived service quality, especially among younger diners. Computerization is making an increasing impact on traditional kitchen equipment, as well, with touch-pad controls allowing staff to access hundreds of pre-loaded recipes and pre-set prep times, enabling greater production consistency with a growing number of menu items.
The point is that contemporary technology is all about enhanced communications, both internally with managers and staff and externally with current and potential customers. This trend is supported by the fact that everyone involved in foodservice and restaurant operations either wants more information than ever before or is being asked to provide it. Everything from foods’ calorie counts and sodium levels to the size of a facility’s carbon footprint is now of concern to the dining public, and operators must have the information tools to disseminate what customers want to know. We may need to redefine the term “restaurant equipment,” but new communication devices are most likely proof as instrumental to operators success as the most familiar ovens, refrigerators and display cases.