“The restaurant industry will always be service oriented, but it’s increasingly important to wisely incorporate technology into operations,“ advises Hudson Riehle, senior vp, research & knowledge group, the National Restaurant Association. “Compared to five to ten years ago, we do see increased use across the industry. QSR adoptions have rolled over to fullservice; tools such as order prep systems, high tech cooking applications, kiosks, and reservations management systems are becoming more commonplace. And we’re certainly seeing increased productivity as a result.” Yet Hudson acknowledges that restaurant operators categorize themselves as between mainstream and lagging behind when it comes to adoption of technology – in part, he speculates, because the restaurant industry is labor intensive and defines itself by interaction with customers.
According to NRA data, consumers don’t appear to be resistant to technology playing a greater role in the restaurant experience, especially younger ones, for whom it’s becoming “an expectation.” Of adults surveyed, 39% said they’d be likely to use an electronic ordering system at a fullservice restaurant; 52% said they’d use an electronic payment system. Operators acknowledge that the use of “high-tech” items such as electronic menus and ordering/payment systems isn’t commonplace in the industry yet, but a majority of fullservice operators said electronic payment systems would become more popular; about 40% had the same opinion regarding electronic ordering systems and menus/wine lists on iPads/electronic tablets.
While the climate is favorable and Hudson feels there is still substantial room for technology integration, he underscores the importance of a well-thought-out plan and a clear vision before implementation of new technologies. “Operators need to consider the initial investment and the payback period along with how it will impact employees and the customer experience. In particular smaller operators should ensure that service contracts are robust and that they have good working relationships with suppliers – technology is almost a black box to many operators and not something they can fix on their own. Ultimately the challenge will be to remain high touch in a high tech environment. This was true 10 years ago when many technologies came online and will be true 10 years from now. Service is a hallmark of the restaurant experience and a greater reliance on technology doesn’t have to impact that negatively. In fact, if well thought out and executed, it can be good service delivered in another way,” says Hudson.