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<p>At the Fast Casual Industry Council&rsquo;s &ldquo;State of Hospitality Technology Panel,&rdquo; from left: Douglas Hunter, The Plant Cafe Organic; Stacy Peterson, Wingstop; Anna Tauzin, NRA; and Marty Hahnfeld, Olo.</p>

Experts: Technology is changing restaurants inside and out

<p><em>This is part of NRN&rsquo;s special coverage of the 2016 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 21-24. Visit <a href="http://nrn.com/">NRN.com</a> for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on <a href="http://twitter.com/nrnonline" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="http://facebook.com/restaurantnews" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p>

Technology is putting a big imprint on the restaurant industry, changing the way brands interact with customers, a panel of fast-casual segment experts said Saturday.

“Hospitality is all about providing services to your guests that meet or exceed their expectations,” said Stacy Peterson, chief information officer for Dallas-based Wingstop Inc. “From a technology standpoint, that means a seamless brand experience through your digital storefront.”

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Peterson was joined on a “State of Hospitality Technology” panel as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Fast Casual Industry Council, with Marty Hahnfeld, chief commercial officer for Olo; Douglas Hunter, director of information technology at The Plant Cafe Organic; and Anna Tauzin, panel moderator and NRA senior marketing manager for innovation and entrepreneurial services.

Peterson said online orders have grown to 16 percent of sales at Wingstop, which specializes in flavored chicken wings.

“In some cases, your new customers might engage with your digital storefront before they ever enter into your front doors,” she said. “Sometimes the best technology is the one you don’t see.”

Peterson said Wingstop was excited about the possibility of extending ordering directly in social media channels rather than sending ads into that space and expecting users to go back to the brand’s app. 

“Why do they have to leave and come into our environment?” she asked rhetorically. “I think that’s much closer to reality than not.”

As for investments, Peterson said restaurant chains should invest time and money in both mobile ordering websites and an app.

“I think people think that apps are more used than they are,” she said. “Apps are supremely important because your most loyal guests typically will download your app. But a customer can’t have an app for every place they eat. They just can’t. So mobile web is important to the restaurant space.”

Technology trends to watch include more interaction on social media channels.

Hahnfeld said the most successful technology will be applied to engaging customers in social channels. 

“You have to listen across all channels and respond appropriately,” Hahnfeld said, citing what he said were excellent approaches by such brands as Taco Bell and Sweetgreen.

Hunter of The Plant Cafe Organic said the Bay Area of California has seen a large reliance on the online review site Yelp. 

“You have to have someone monitor and take your voice across all the social media channels,” he said.

Future restaurants will also see changes physically because of technology, Peterson said, including some that see a large number of kiosks.

“For us, it’s small adjustments,” she said of Wingstop. “With more online ordering on the horizon, we have to change the front counter of our restaurant and create a better guest experience for those who ordering ahead: create a queue for them or create a lane for them and prioritize the orders.”

Hunter said signage is increasingly important to direct customers using online ordering to the right place to pick up their food.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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