The Future of Restaurant Technology

By Lisa Terry — July 30, 2013

Welcome to The Tasty Tablet, the world’s most tricked-out eatery, and the year 2016. No, you don’t eat the technology, but the proprietors are big fans of tech and have outfitted their new operation with everything the market has to offer to make management omniscient, kitchen operations hum, service is impeccable and guests weep with joy.
  
Few—okay, no—restaurateurs will ever install every new technology solution providers offer or vendors dream up. But wouldn’t it be fun if they did? Here’s a look at how restaurant technology is evolving—and what it may look like a few years out.

The proprietors of The Tasty Tablet are aiming their table service venue at young, aspiring and tech-savvy professionals who still want to eat well. They don’t have all that much experience in the food business, but they do have what they regard as their own version of a secret sauce: big data and powerful analytics—now easily affordable even by start-up independents—that will let systems tell them how to make The Tasty Tablet into the next big thing.

“Analytics allows people to make more informed decisions, from staffing to adjusting prep times to comparing average ticket times,” says Brian Wayne, product manager for QSR Automations (www.qsrautomations.com).

Tasty Who?
Of course, no one will know about dining’s latest gem unless they spread the word. The Tasty Tablet has partnered with The Big Wallet Winner, whose offering won the hard-fought war back in 2015 to become the defacto standard for mobile payment and loyalty.

That solution uses a multi-brand rewards system to get consumers to opt in to share preferences and receive phone notifications when geo-location technology finds them within range of a business of interest. So our guests of the future—a twenty-something couple who love fusion cuisine and craft beers—receive a custom promotion about The Tasty Tablet’s beer-and-food pairings event and click through to put their name on the wait list.

“There will be more use of analytics for intelligent, targeted messaging,” says Travis Young, CEO of onePOS (www.onepos.com). Instead of just discounting, “marketing will be about changing behavior.”

You Have Arrived
As their vehicle comes within close range of The Tasty Tablet, their name is automatically highlighted on an app on the hostess’ tablet and the system uses analytics to search for the next table-for-two likely to become available based on average visit time, kitchen status and the timing of diners’ courses.

Over time, The Tasty Tablet’s cloud database stores all the information on what’s happening in table management and the kitchen. “The times get more and more accurate so the system learns as it goes,” says QSR Automations’ Wayne.

As our guests enter, their phones automatically communicate with the hostess application via Bluetooth Smart. Their images pop up on the hostess’ tablet, and she greets them by name. If they hadn’t already contacted The Tasty Tablet, the hostess would have offered them a QR code to scan to bring up their loyalty data.

Digital signage at the entryway offer birthday greetings to one of our guests and expected wait times for a table, along with a glimpse of dishes he might enjoy based on the time of day, inventory levels and his preferences in the CRM. A social media feed at the bottom shows testimonials about The Tasty Tablet from his followers and friend groups.

All this has gotten a lot easier over time as digital displays have gotten cheaper and more graphically capable, and it became easier to manage techniques such as dividing up the screen to play different content in each part, says André Nataf, senior business development manager for Menusoft Systems, developer of Digital Dining (www.menusoft.com).

Luckily, The Tasty Tablet is working with a solution provider who had the foresight back in 2013 to add marketing expertise to its staff to help small businesses manage marketing, content generation and even sell ad time on the restaurant’s digital signs, an idea that had been promoted by David Gosman, CEO of pcAmerica (www.pcamerica.com). “Traditional solution providers are great at technology and rock solid support, but businesses need more than that—they need marketing.”

While they’re waiting, another party pulls into the parking lot to pick up their take-out order—since it’s all pre-paid, a runner simply hands it to the driver. “If you can provide your customers with a mobile app that allows them to place their order and come in, skip the line and not even take out their wallet to pick up the order, you’ve provided a great value to your customer,” says John Berkley, senior vice president of product, Mercury Payment Systems (www.mercurypay.com). That enables staff to focus on service, not payment.

Order It Your Way
Our guests are seated and offered the option of using the namesake tablet kiosks, mounted on every table. There, they can peruse the menu and tap any item to see images and videos, read detailed ingredient, preparation and nutrition information, and see beverage pairing recommendations.

“People will want more open communication on all aspects of the restaurant,” says Travis Kellerman, SVP operations for Lavu Inc. (www.poslavu.com), including info on the sources of the food they serve.

The POS remains the main integration point for all these capabilities, even though the form factor has changed, says Joe Cortese, VP product development for Squirrel Systems (www.squirrelsystems.com).

Restaurateurs benefit too—as seen in online ordering, average tickets are larger when guests create orders themselves. “Typically when people self-order there tends to be better opportunities to upsell because of the ability to show video and graphics,” says Squirrel’s Cortese.

The head waiter had used a low-cost, rugged tablet to take photos of the specials when he arrived for his evening shift and uploaded them to the cloud.

“People are dabbling with consumer devices, but we think rugged tablets are the future” for restaurants, with essential peripherals built in instead of added on, says Michael Russo, SVP and chief technology officer for Micros (www.micros.com).

Each one also gets a personalized recommendation that takes into account their allergies and favorites, based on data they’ve shared as well as past orders stored in the CRM. But our diners prefer to bring their own devices and scan a barcode to gain access the same content on their smartphones, since The Tasty Tablet has installed a robust, encrypted WiFi network that offers great connectivity.

“Customers will use their phones as a remote control for the restaurant,” says Jon Lawrence, director of product marketing for NCR (www.ncr.com). Restaurants will be able to allow guests to balance which activities they want to control, and when they would like a server to take care of tasks. That not only helps the guest, observes Lavu’s Kellerman—it also helps make orders more accurate and service faster.

The server appears and takes out her own personal phone to tap each guest menu device to retrieve their order. “If you give the server a dollar or two extra an hour to use their own phone for orders, everybody wins,” explains John Giles, president of Future POS, Inc. (web.futurepos.com). “The servers will take more care with their own phone,” and BYOD is an easy sale for solution providers.

When one of the diners has a question the server can’t answer, she messages the kitchen to get some feedback. Later, she uses her device to check on the status of each dish as it moves through the kitchen, saving the need to run back and forth. Suddenly an alert pops up on her phone—one of our guests has added a soda to the order on the digital menu and she fills the request.

Witnessing all of this is a series of IP cameras, integrated with the mobile POS application, that follow all of the servers’ mobile devices as they move around the restaurant. Functions such as keyword search and facial recognition allow managers to get right to the people and the transactions they’re seeking.

Pimp My Kitchen
As the twosome’s order enters the business intelligence-enabled kitchen management system, it’s instantly broken down and dispatched to stations according to prep times calculated based on past experience and current workloads using analytics, so everything will be ready together.

“Big data will become more practical for restaurants, especially smaller ones,” says pcAmerica’s Gosman. “There will be services that take data in and push actionable intelligence out.”

One of our guests wants her meal modified to accommodate an allergy, so the cook uses a touch-based kitchen video display to consult a cloud-based recipe service that offers a revised recipe, complete with video instruction. Tabbed views enable the expeditor to see multiple items on a screen, including which ones are rush orders, to guide the chef’s decision-making.

Instead of bump bars, some of those stations are voice-enabled, so the cook can ask questions of the management system instead of using a screen that must be kept sanitary. While he’s making a meal for one of our diners, the grill cook is also firing a meal for a take-out order, so he pops the completed entrée into an environmentally-friendly container and tells the printer to generate a liner-less barcoded label to identify that order for the expeditor.

“A video display can’t follow food around so people in the kitchen know what’s what,” observes Jon Levin, product integration manager for Star Micronics (www.starmicronics.com). As the cook removes food items from shelves, coolers and bins, sensors upload this data to cloud-based inventory management system automatically debits the inventory and create reorders for all of The Tasty Tablet’s suppliers. That’s great, because our proprietors have heard that “the biggest stumbling block many customers have is the lack of consistency from suppliers to get data into the system,” says onePOS’ Young.

Operations Made Easy
While she has a minute, the server uses her phone to check out next week’s schedule and messages a colleague to swap shifts in the fully automated labor management suite. She also makes a note to check out the new benefits video pushed out to servers’ phones by HR—or maybe she’ll catch it after closing on the digital signs.

Meanwhile, the restaurant manager glances at her own rugged tablet to check her mobile management dashboard. She suspects a surprise inspection soon, so she checks the intelligent maintenance checklist app to ensure that cleaning and sanitation jobs are up to date and she’ll be prepared at any time to generate a report for HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) compliance.

In the past, “those systems were all manual, and there could be errors, omissions and even fraud,” says Mark Bunney, director of channels and alliance partners for ParTech (www.partech.com). “It’s all tied to protection of brand.”

She’s also concerned about a restaurant down the street that was vilified on social media ratings sites for its dirty bathrooms—a good reminder to check in The Tasty Tablet’s sentiment monitors and respond to any negative comments people have made about the new enterprise. Integration of such sites into POS will help restaurants make the most of that data, says ParTech’s Bunney.

Next she takes a look at the latest loss prevention report. Such applications will be “very sophisticated, looking at patterns of employee behavior” using analytics, says Micros’ Russo. That will not only identify fraud, but help restaurants like The Tasty Tablet create documentation that supports lawsuits.

Have Your People Pay My People
Back in 2013, everyone knew mobile was the future of payment, but which of many competing business models was the subject of heated debate. Many, including Menusoft’s Nataf, had predicted that EMV would help drive mobile payment adoption, and felt that consumers might want a single “keeper” of wallet technologies, such as a bank, instead of a lot of separate payment and loyalty applications run by individual brands. Luckily by 2016 a defacto leader has emerged.

But that hasn’t gotten restaurateurs out of the need to offer a variety of payment mechanisms. Guests with older forms of payment—perhaps debit, EMV/chip and pin cards, even cash—will still need to be accommodated, along with the PCI requirements that still apply, even with all the advancements in encryption. Restaurants will need accessories such as PIN pads that snap onto phones.

Noting her guests are nearing the end of their meal, the server generates a barcoded summary of the order on the touchscreen-equipped communication platform and printer, which doubles as a server for the digital signage and all of the restaurant’s mobile devices. It’s also handy for guests who want to leave with paper, such as for an expense report.

Such technology, “allows Mom and Pop shops to take advantage of technologies that were not available to them before,” says Star’s Levin. When our couple decides their meal is complete, they scan the barcoded receipt with a phone to call up their check, select the pre-configured tip of choice and transact the payment, including gift points they got from a friend. Immediately the restaurant sends them a message inviting them to rate their experience and, post their views to social media and travel and entertainment ratings sites. Lower-scoring sentiment and ratings are immediately dispatched to the manager prior to posting.

Happy Clients, Happy Solution Providers
The proprietors attribute the instant success of The Tasty Tablet in part to their trusted, knowledgeable solution provider for helping them leverage guest-focused technology, visibility and analytics to understand and nurture their customer relationships. “Dealers, developers and processors that can create value beyond the point of sale and create a point of purchase experience will be the clear winners,” says Mercury’s Berkley.

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