When looking toward the future of tech in the food industry, it’s easy to imagine that robots will soon take our orders, we’ll pay for meals through voice or face recognition, and that most deliveries will be ferried to customers via drones. But this ignores real-world barriers, including regulation and shifts in public interest. Operators should focus their energy and capital on tech that appears to have a lasting, positive impact. Here are a few areas of growth in food tech that Technomic is eyeing for the future:
- High-tech ordering. Labor issues and consumer demands for customization have put automation in the spotlight, but automating the ordering process will likely happen incrementally over time. According to Technomic’s presentation at the Global Restaurant Leadership Conference, 45% of American consumers are currently interested in integrating more tech into their ordering experience. Interest in tech should increase as customers grow more used to seeing tech in restaurants. We are seeing dining room and delivery tech become more prevalent as chains like Panera install touchscreen ordering, and chains like Domino’s and Wingstop launch chatbot ordering or order-ahead options on their mobile apps.
- Big data means big savings. More operators are using consumer purchase data to change prices so they reflect demand and traffic. Similarly, restaurants like June’s of Austin, Texas, and Black Pearl of Ann Arbor, Mich., allow customers to pay for reservations in advance. This increases the chance that customers will honor reservations and gives operators a more reliable way to predict traffic and revenue. Big data has also allowed operators to spend marketing dollars more intelligently. As the industry’s ability to collect data improves, so will its ability to use the information to cut costs and provide better service.
- Delivery disruption. According to Technomic’s Delivery Technology webinar, 68% of delivery orders replace meals that would have otherwise been prepared at home. The other 32% would cannibalize restaurant meals. Innovating delivery will become more important for operators to stay relevant as meal kits and retail meal solutions (RMS) threaten to gobble up more of the market. While drone and autonomous car delivery are popular topics, the next three to five years of delivery innovation will likely continue to come from third-party delivery, as autonomous vehicles and drones are still being tested and tweaked. We may also see a rise in “headless restaurants,” which only offer delivery and do not have a dining room, as an answer meal kits and RMS.
- Rise of virtual reality and mobile. The success of mobile game Pokemon Go has proven that there is a market for augmented reality and virtual reality experiences, and more retailers are moving into the space. Hess Express, Speedway and other chains have released loyalty apps that feature augmented reality games. Moe’s Southwest Grill installed augmented reality-friendly artwork that interacts with the chain’s loyalty app. We expect more chains will take similar steps in order to engage customers through mobile apps both in and out of house.
AS I SEE IT, technology advancement in the foodservice industry occurs as an answer to changes in consumer expectations. It’s important for operators to avoid jumping in bed with a new piece of tech as a quick fix for flagging revenue. That said, expectations for technology advancement will only increase as millennials and Generation Z grow older. The mobile phone is the new wallet and should be treated as such, especially when dealing with younger customers. Finally, software is a safer investment than hardware, as software is upgradeable and hardware generally becomes obsolete quickly.
Note: This content originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Technomic’s Foodservice Digest newsletter