Many of us do not think of restaurants as heavy users of technology but as with all businesses that realm is changing. Recent surveys and articles outlined in Nation’s Restaurant News point out that consumer and demographic trends are changing the way that restaurants, particularly in the pizza, fast casual (think Panera) and quick service areas (McDonald’s Wendy’s, etc) are doing business or will be doing business in the future. “Technology-friendly service in restaurants has become important to consumers broadly, and to Millennials and Generation Z customers, it’s essential,” said Colleen Rothman, manager of consumer insights for Technomic, the firm which conducted the survey.
Ann Arbor based Domino’s is the recognized leader in digital ordering and attributes its 14.5% sales growth in the last year to a variety of apps and digital ordering innovations, including just introduced text ordering, that allow it to compete against less tech savvy competitors. These competitors include many smaller chains and independents that do not have the breadth of technical expertise that Domino’s can muster. Perhaps that underserved segment represents an opportunity for the right service provider or app.
Interestingly, Hungry Howey’s, also Michigan based, was ranked second in the survey conducted by Technomic for offering the most digital options for customers to interact with the company. These included ordering but also offering of reward and loyalty points. Surprisingly, the high end full service Capital Grill received high marks from the survey respondents for its I-Pad based wine list and related wireless ordering program. Among others listed in the top ten companies as the offering the best digital options were Starbucks and Chic-Fil-A.
Industry growth and demographic trends are also contributing to the use of additional technology in restaurants. Jim Sullivan, an industry consultant and speaker, notes that growth in the industry is projected to require an additional 1.7 million jobs in the next few years. Currently there are not enough good workers to fill those jobs and immigration probably won’t fill the void as no solution is likely in an election cycle nor will many members of Generation Z, as they do not appear to be clamoring to work in the industry. Thus, Sullivan feels that tablet menus and ordering from them in full service establishments and the growth of menu kiosks in fast food locations will offset the need for around 680,000 servers and cashiers by 2020. Additionally, he sees that the growth in electronic payment methodology will ultimately disrupt the need for cash registers and point of sale systems resulting in the need for fewer bookkeepers.
On the unit manager side, he sees the acceptance of wearable technology like the Apple Watch and android watches and apps that work on them providing “managers real-time updates on how to control food costs, utility usage and labor efficiency, with specific suggestions on who to cut early and how to schedule the next shift based on weather, history and promotions. New customer-to-regular ratios and diners’ frequency numbers will also be relayed live, improving table visits and repeat business.” These tools when coupled with camera systems will lead to the ability for the manager to monitor activities in the dining area, the bar and the back of the house on a real time basis. He believes that this will lead to improved operating performance and training in the restaurant.
What does all this mean? It means there are opportunities in all types of business to develop technologies that can disrupt the current means of doing business and to offer value to operators in that business segment. Look at the current environment to determine where the problems are and where they will be and consider how those problems can be solved.