FSTEC 2019: Our Guide to How Restaurant Tech Guides Your Eating Habits
Technology connects the world around us in tacit and often invisible ways more and more every day. As we fast approach this year’s FSTEC 2019 convention, we’re exploring the ways that restaurant tech has impacted our dining habits. Many factors shape guest experiences, from the way that you order food to the way the kitchen works in the restaurant, all through technological solutions designed to remain dynamic and hidden. Whether you realize it or not, these technologies guide your choices and inform your habits by shaping the menu items and options available to you or through speed and quality of service.
Connectivity in the Kitchen
Kitchen routing technology for the back-of-house (BoH) is an especially hidden aspect of a guests’ dining experience.Rather than relying on paper ticket systems, handwritten by wait staff and passed to the BoH, kitchen display systems (KDS) are digital platforms that ensure both accuracy and speed of service. These systems add value to the customer experience and have been shown to boost the bottom line of restaurateurs. Some KDS devices route your orders, meaning that for the guest, each item is prepared and timed to come out in tandem, enhancing quality.
Restaurant Technology Helps You Get in Line
In many cases, the first thing you encounter when entering a restaurant is the host station. There you’re either directed to seating or given an opportunity to get on a waitlist. In the past, hosts provided this glancing at the crowd and surveying a handwritten list. Front-of-House (FoH) technology has dramatically minimized that kind of guesswork. FoH systems can connect to the BoH, meaning that restaurant staff can see pain points in service, and offer informed responses to guests.
In many cases, these systems offer waitlisting or reservation functionality. Here, customers can get in line without having to wait in person. That allows guests the opportunity to leave as needed, as they can receive SMS texts. In turn, that can inform a potential guest of their options, while helping them make the best possible dining choice.
Another pain point for guests in their dining journey is placing and later paying for an order. In both cases, there are technological solutions that are increasingly more sophisticated. Early versions of self-serve restaurant kiosks afforded guests the freedom to choose from an array of dishes cafeteria-style. Modern stations allow guests to select their menu options without waitstaff or counter service.
As customers leave, they can now settle their bill through pay-at-the-table tablets. As with self-order kiosks, these are mobile devices that allow customers to pay at their leisure. Operators can tie that restaurant tech into the FoH host tech as well, which can alert staff that a customer may be near completion of their time at the restaurant.
In eliminating these restraints to customers for the lag time in either starting or finishing their order is critical. In doing so, operators enhance the value to their guests, while lessening their staffing needs and upping their table turns.
Menu Engineering for Tomorrow
An industry term, the concept is menu engineering involves looking analytically at the psychology of your physical menu from the graphic design to the word placement. Menu engineering may entail several factors, from the desire to push certain menu items, to the need to periodically reevaluate what moves and doesn’t on your menu. Fortunately, there are analytical tools available to restaurants to help shape that.
As such, modern menu engineering serves to guide your customers through their eating experience quietly behind the scenes. Relative to climate change and food sourcing, it can also reflect the availability of certain items at different times of the year. For example, if the cost of meat has become untenable for your restaurant, you can reposition the vegetarian or vegan options to catch the eye of your potential consumer better.
The Lunch Rush
Anticipating rush times is part of a restaurant’s daily prep work. Technology from business intelligence analytics to bin management systems have streamlined this process, by providing actionable data points. Optimizing ads to run promoting lunch specials and increasing your off-premise dining options are two implicit ways to help your guest along their lunch journey.
Beyond just knowing what and when to expect customers, restaurateurs can combine the basic tenets of menu engineering and business strategy to account for their lunch rush. For some restaurants, that involves a pared down amount of menu options that account for prep time. That helps customers who are likely already in a pinch for time to get their food, and have the time to calmly enjoy it. Giving customers that extra bit of comfort through their experience, can help guide them in the next time, or ideally to suggest your business to someone else in the future.
The SEO of Restaurants Near You
The biggest search engine in the world, Google satisfies 63,000 search queries per second every day. That means that your guests are highly likely to encounter your business through a web search. Searches for the phrase “restaurants near me” number in the millions per day, and operate through a combination of GPS and cloud-based technologies. Actively working on search engine optimization (SEO) can provide potential guests with the information needed to inform their decisions.
From your customers’ perspective, if they search either that term or for your location, then they can be driven to your restaurant. The Google My Business function provides an immediate point of entry to guests seeking information, like your hours and menu. In some cases, system integrations allow guests to apply directly through the Google search portal to gain a spot on the waitlist or to set a reservation.
SEO Can Direct Your Hunger
As in optimizing your site for web searches, you can, in turn, shift your focus to specific menu items. Technology can do that for you through the use of algorithms that can identify what a guest needs or might be interested in based on their previous dining habits. Now, you can use Google to locate a restaurant, and Google Maps has even added functionality that shows you the most popular dishes at each.
In another example, engineers at BMW recently developed a modular version of this technology, by installing a feature in their vehicles that uses your location to conduct quick searches for restaurants near you. The BMW solution speaks to the modularity of the tech, and presents one path of future opportunity to literally guide your guests to your restaurant.
The Future of Off-Premise Dining
Companies like GrubHub and DoorDash have made off-premise widely accessible to consumers looking for a night in. These platforms have shaped the industry, with restaurants now starting dark or virtual kitchens to keep up with off-premise order demands. This technology, specifically designed with convenience in mind, is a critical decision point for many consumers.
What Comes Next
FSTEC panels like “Failure is Always an Option” with Mythbusters host Adam Savage or “Our Automated Future,” with Artificial Intelligence researcher and economist Ajay Agrawal cast the future as imminent and daring. The technology of today serves as the foundation for an integrated and adaptable future, one that presents a growing buffet of options from which to choose.
That future includes employing autonomous vehicles in the delivery space, robotic waitstaff, and apps that use facial recognition and biometrics to identify your potential choices quickly. Restaurant tech not only drives innovation, but solves for problems that you didn’t even realize you had. In privileging the customer experience, these technologies have put a premium on convenience, incentivizing guest traffic to guide them to your restaurant through tacit and often unseen means.
Chat with us in booth 112 to find out more about how restaurant tech can help you increase guest satisfaction.
About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.