Dining out is an increasingly technological experience: we pre-order via our smartphones; we pay with a tap of our contactless card; we sometimes don’t even need to leave our homes to enjoy the tastiest local cuisine.
Digital transformation hasn’t outright replaced chefs – machines certainly aren’t handling meal preparation, cooking, or serving – so it’s not quite The Jetsons just yet. But, while eating out is still a physical, sensory experience, it’s one that’s becoming more automated, more streamlined and ultimately more convenient for consumers.
Amazon changed retail fundamentally: it turned one-click ordering, next-day delivery, and seemingly endless variety into essential customer expectations, rather than USPs. Restaurants are going through a similar transition.
But what does that mean if you’re running one?
Here are the technological trends restaurateurs must pay attention to in 2019.
To paraphrase Aladdin’s genie: life is your customers’ restaurant, and the smartphone is their maitre’d. Menus, reviews, and more can all be perused from the convenience of an app, and food can be ordered to their homes directly through a generalist app/mobile friendly website like Just Eat, Uber Eats and Deliveroo or – in the case of chains such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and KFC – one designed for the establishment itself.
It’s easy to understand why these solutions have taken off. Delivery is taking centre stage in the modern restaurant experience: it’s convenient for customers – who can buy the food they want, however indulgent it might be, directly to their homes – and it’s convenient for eateries, which can serve customers without sacrificing tables.
Electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) technology is bringing speed, efficiency, and simplicity to the process of completing orders – and it’s helping restaurants gather reams of real-time data about their patrons’ preferences and behaviours.
When you know the items that customers generally like to order most, you know what you can upsell to them. When you know which items are underperforming, you know what you can discount – or what you can take off the menu entirely. This naturally makes it much easier to manage inventory and maintain maximum operational efficiency. As soon as your customers have decided on their order, EPOS systems can expedite getting their food to their tables.
Specialist POS systems can be designed to include restaurant and industry-specific reports, workflows, and other features to foster a more intuitive experience. These reports can then eventually be delivered to the restaurant manager’s mobile via an app. Some also have conversational ordering and inventory management features, which help to reduce order errors and, by extension, unnecessary waste.
But EPOS systems are merely one part of a complicated equation. The realisation that the dining experience is about so much more than a friendly waiter/waitress jotting down an order with a toothy smile is beginning to dawn on the industry – so the rise of self-service could be just as interesting and just as consequential for restaurants.
Installing a kiosk can have several benefits for your establishment. Firstly, they minimise operational expenditure: the aforementioned order-jotting can be entirely handled by the machine, helping to reduce labour costs. Secondly, the machine encourages customers to order what they want without shame: that decadent slice of chocolate cake is no longer off-limits, but within tantalising, easy reach; that complicated order that a server might (understandably) misremember can typically be processed with ease and without error.
What’s more, kiosks tend to speed up the restaurant experience – making it easier than ever to get more food to more patrons (and thereby make more money). Tableside ordering devices can serve a similar function, with the added benefit that the customer doesn’t have to leave their table at any point after sitting down. The less work they have to do, the more you benefit.
Customers want a convenient, non-judgmental experience, and restaurants can make money from it: studies have shown that patrons who order from self-service tablets or kiosks tend to buy more food and drink.
Kitchens rely on everything working in perfect, predictable harmony. The trouble, of course, is that restaurants aren’t always predictable or harmonious environments. During busier periods with higher volumes of customers, kitchens can be prone to rush, frenzy, and error – which can lead to lost profits and disappointed guests.
Kitchen display systems (KDS) help you manage cook times, and in so doing, contribute to solving this problem. Working together with your POS and kiosk systems, they highlight which customers to cook which food for in which order. This technology ensures that tables get their food at the same time, it minimises waiting, it lowers overall wastage, and it ensures that customer experience is consistent every time they visit – at whatever location they visit.
In 2019, we’ve not yet reached the glorious, shiny future where no customer is displeased, no staff member hurried, and no restaurant wastes food. But with KDS technology, we’re getting closer.
Like KDS systems, digital signage gives restaurants greater mobility and agility – albeit in a very different way. If you run a restaurant, you’re aware that something as seemingly simple as changing your menu can be a major hassle and can lead to knock on effects for your store’s artwork, paper menus, and advertising, among other things.
With digital solutions, though, restaurants and QSRs can change their signs to suit the times. Customer appetites evolve over time, and dining must evolve with them. Modern signage and menus have to be instantly changeable to reflect this – and to notify customers when you’ve launched a new special offer or run out of a popular menu item.
Data gathering and analysis
And understanding will ultimately be key for the restaurant industry in 2019. The more you know, the better you can serve your customers: identifying your establishment’s inefficiencies is half the battle. The other half is finding the right technology to eliminate them.
In 2019, more data means better decisions. Expect restaurants to continue gathering as much GDPR-friendly customer information as they can – and to perform more internal analysis and reporting. When you can understand daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual sales performance, inventory requirements, campaign performance, and more, you can better understand what went right, what could be improved, and where to focus your efforts in future. Data analysis and reporting apps can give you this understanding, without having to spend lots of valuable time trying to connect the dots manually.
Jurgen Ketel, Managing Director EMEA, Givex
Image Credit: Flickr / Sally