Technology is rapidly changing the way restaurants do business. Operators are on the lookout for the latest technology and tools to optimize and streamline workflows, improve customer service and boost the bottom line.
Customers expect the restaurants they visit to keep pace with their increasingly tech-integrated lifestyles centered on smartphones, apps, Internet connectivity and social media. So there was no way Technomic could not include this topic in its recent Restaurant Trends & Directions conference for operators. I’d like to share here what attendees learned from a panel of leading chain executives who discussed their companies’ unique and visionary applications of consumer-facing technology.
With half of orders already made from a computer or mobile device, Domino’s Pizza thinks of itself as a pizza and e-commerce company, explained Amber Gadsby, the chain’s director of precision marketing. Looking for a way to embrace interactive involvement with Millennial customers who are already engaging with the brand online as they place orders, the chain developed a Pizza Tracker app in which customers monitor their pizza’s progress through the prep process. A new Yelp button on the Tracker page encourages guest feedback. This spring, Domino’s tested a live video feed of a unit kitchen on its Tracker website, with five webcams mounted in the kitchen of the Salt Lake City unit to allow customers to watch their pizza being made in real time.
Stacked: Food Well Built is a build-your-own concept that specializes in burgers, salads, pizza and macaroni and cheese. At most such concepts, customization of menu items with myriad toppings usually lends itself to a long ordering process with waitstaff. But Stacked found a way around the problem with on-table iPad touchscreens which give customers an unpressured way to customize their orders, said Paul Motenko, the chain’s co-CEO and co-chairman. Guests love the system—they respond favorably to being able to order and pay whenever they’re ready. It increases check averages because customers select more add-ons as they build their own meal than they would if they were giving their order at the counter. The iPads aren’t chained to tables, but there have been no thefts to date, Motenko said.
Tavern Restaurant Group concept The Pub is an English-pub-themed concept with an innovative feature: a tap wall. The pour-your-own beer wall is controlled by an iPad app, explained Scott Schmidt, Tavern Restaurant Group’s chief operating officer. After staff confirm that they are of legal age to drink, customers get an RFID-enabled card that they can wave at iPads behind the taps and self-pour a full glass of beer or just a taste. Each card is good for a maximum 40 ounces of beer; servers can add more at their discretion. The technology encourages customer interaction and sampling, provides detailed information to boost beer knowledge, and allows staff to control consumption.
As these examples make clear, consumer engagement with restaurant technology takes many forms. In particular, consumers are rapidly adopting mobile tools and expect to use them more often in the future. Restaurant companies need to continually evaluate tech tools and stay abreast not only of how technology trends change, but also why. When considering what new technologies to adopt, operators should:
- Ensure that the technology is a good fit with the brand positioning and the customer base being targeted. In general, Millennials and Generation X engage enthusiastically with restaurant technology, while Baby Boomers don’t.
- Prioritize ordering technologies that ease the transaction and create a good first impression, or payment systems that form the guest’s final and lasting impression of a restaurant occasion.
- Make sure the technology that customers encounter is spectacular, secure, and easy to use—or risk losing sales to competitors who are doing a better and more creative job of integrating new technologies into their operations.