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Three technologies that will shape the future of the restaurant industry

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / Sally)

Flying cars, holograms, and robots are usually top of mind when we think about futuristic technology, but have you ever thought about the impact these types of innovations will have on your dinner plans? The restaurant industry has seen plenty of technological advancements in just the past few years. Online ordering capabilities have given rise to household names like DoorDash and Postmates that keep people out of their cars and on the couch. Employee scheduling software has eliminated the days of managers spending hours trying to figure out how to get their top performing servers in two places at once. Tableside POS technology has even allowed drink delivery times to be cut in half, allowing restaurants to get more orders, tips, and drunkenly delighted customers.

This technology has already been adopted by many in the restaurant industry, but when you think of a Jetsons-esque future, what kind of tech do you think will be taking your order? Here are a few technological trends that have already emerged in the restaurant realm that could be common practice in a few years.

1. Self-ordering kiosks

If you’re the kind of person who gets excited by the idea of self-driving Ubers because it means less human interaction, you’re going to love the self-kiosk ordering movement. Mainly being adopted by massive chains like McDonald’s and Panera right now, self-ordering kiosks eliminate the need for cashiers and fires your order directly to the kitchen without having to say a word. Quick-service restaurants are adopting this more rapidly as most of their customers want their food as quickly as possible. Although it’s not a five-star experience using a massive kiosk to tell a robot what you want to eat, it very well could be in the future. Having a personal (albeit, much smaller) self-ordering device at each table in a fancy restaurant isn’t too wild of a thought when you look at the benefits.

Restaurateurs will be intrigued to know that McDonald’s saw customers spend 30 per cent more when using a self-ordering kiosk, and Taco Bell saw a 20 per cent increase in spending. At an expensive restaurant, this could easily translate to another bottle of wine or an extra appetizer. Not to mention, a romantic candle-lit dinner could be more intimate without a server coming by every five minutes to ask how your date is going. Although the self-ordering movement is just beginning to infiltrate these monstrous quick-service brands, it’s quite possible your favourite local Italian bistro will catch on very soon.

2. Robotic chefs and bartenders

Most people probably prefer to know there’s a human expert in the kitchen cooking up their favourite dish, but that doesn’t mean robots are giving up their spatulas any time soon. There are multiple startup concepts that have already developed robotic makers of food and beverages, and some are gaining real traction.

Spyce, based out of Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the most innovative culinary-robotic collaborations. This concept allows customers to craft complex bowls of chicken, rice, kale, onions, and more via self-ordering touch-screens, which then tells a robotic wok how to cook it. This process isn’t just rotating some hot dogs on a warm conveyor belt—this is creating mixed bowls with unique recipes and several ingredients.

Possibly even smarter than the robot chefs at Spyce are the robotic arms shaking and stirring cocktails at The Tipsy Robot in Las Vegas. The venue boasts only eight human workers and  two robots that create intricate beverages (all while twisting, shaking, and dancing I might add). Not only do the drinks taste great, but the entertainment of watching them get made is worth the price alone.

Of course it’s expensive to introduce robots to your restaurant, especially if you don’t have some eager geniuses from M.I.T. by your side like Spyce did. However, as the years go by and the technology becomes cheaper, it could very well become a norm in the sit-down restaurant space.

3. Restaurant management A.I.

Even with an automated droid prepping meals behind the grill, restaurant managers know they would still have a myriad of other responsibilities to attend to. Improvements have come along to assist restaurateurs in running their business, like inventory management and reservation POS integrations, but artificial intelligence could make these products immensely more intuitive.

Inventory management software already saves managers time by eliminating the need for long paper checklists surveying supply levels, but artificial intelligence could automate this process even further. The smartest technology could track seasonal ingredients and menu additions and then account for that in an automated order to food distributors. This could create the most efficient food cost possible for a restaurant, saving them from wasting money and food.

On top of this, artificial intelligence could improve a restaurant’s reservation process exponentially. Instead of having a host or hostess talking on the phone trying to figure out where to squeeze in a last minute reservation on a busy night, customers can log onto their website and find all the available times and tables. With A.I., this also means the restaurants can make sure to account for special events happening in the area at that time and what the average time to turn a table is, making sure guests won’t have to wait for a seat they reserved weeks prior.

The restaurant industry has been slow to adopt newer technology than most, but the efficiency brought by modern tools is undeniable. Whether it’s something as simple as an automated reservation simple, or something as complex as a robotic bartender, it’s guaranteed that the restaurant of the future will look (and operate) much different than the ones today.

Ryan McSweeney, Growth Marketing Coordinator, Upserve (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Flickr / Sally

Ryan McSweeney is the Growth Marketing Coordinator at Upserve, an organization that helps independent full-service restaurants run and manage their entire business through a restaurant management platform.