By TJ Schier, President, SMART Restaurant Group
Historically, success in the restaurant business has been primarily driven by food and guest service by people. As the consumers’ needs change, however, technology is playing a more prominent role in the guest experience for restaurants. While in many cases technology ‘replaces’ people (i.e. ordering at a kiosk versus with a cashier), in many other cases, technology is an effective lever to help managers (and guests) have more control over the experience and run the business more effectively.
Technology has had a major impact in three main areas of the restaurant business:
• Guest experience and interface with the brand
• Operations and predictive data analytics
• Training, recruiting, and communication
Let’s look at each of these areas starting with the guest experience.
Guests want control
Today’s consumer has more information in their phone and uses it. Brands who embrace this power have leveraged this advantage into increased sales, guest frequency and stealing market share from their competitors. How?
Guests love control and finding information when they need, where they need. Looking for a great place to eat? No need to look in the ‘yellow pages’ or ask friends. Check out online review sites to see what places earn high marks from diners! In a hurry? Order on the kiosk.
Ready to order but have limited time and don’t want to wait at the restaurant? Place your order on the app or online and have it ready when you arrive.
In recent years, digital technology has connected sensors and devices, created new business models, transformed how we communicate and helped grow our economies
At a full service restaurant and tired of waiting for the server? Many concepts have a device on the table to pay so you don’t have to wait for the checkand it’s even a reality to download an app to order and pay without the table device! Heck, if you don’t even want to leave your house or office, you can order from a third party app and have it delivered right to you!
Technology allows the guest to not only order, pay and provide feedback about their visit, it also helps manage loyalty programs and visit tracking as well as help guests push the survey feedback via social media thereby creating a cost effective word-of-mouth (good or bad) marketing program for the brand.
Operations and Data Analytics
Just as technology helps the guest control their experience, it also provides unlimited data and analysis for the restaurant operators to determine how to more efficiently run the business.
Numerous technology solutions are available to track customer purchase behaviors, analyze food cost, labor scheduling, ordering and the impact of price changes on menu mix and frequency.
Top operators are using today’s technology to track the impact of menu and price changes, tracking server and cashier performance, automating scheduling and shift change functions and using predictive technology to help run their kitchen and/or drive-thru operations more efficiently. Why run your business on gut feel or instinct? Spend a few dollars per month to ensure you can track guest purchase behavior, impact of price changes on menu mix and automate food production and labor scheduling processes so you can spend more time working ‘on’ the business versus ‘in’ the business.
Once the company has the data, it’s critical to use it! Consumer purchase data allows the company to form a far more detailed picture of the demographic of their various types of customers so they can then more effectively advertise to those who most resemble the company’s high-usage guests to ensure a great return on investment.
High Tech, High Touch or Both?
One of the earliest benefits of technology revolves around people. Over a dozen years ago, companies were trying to enhance their training and human resources functions by leveraging technology. Nowadays, technology is changing so quickly it is imperative to be device agnostic so you can quickly respond to the ever-changing consumer tastes.
Improvements in technology now allow restaurants to effectively target job applicants to quickly hire team members. It’s now possible to ‘text to apply’, get a text back from the business to schedule the interview and even have the applicant submit a ‘video resume’. Top-notch companies leverage technologies such as these to promote a ‘cutting edge’ culture to attract high-performing employees.
Next, technology allows companies to better train their teams. Technology doesn’t replace the trainer. It allows the knowledge to be transferred consistently to the new hire and frees up the trainer’s time to focus on coaching and training versus providing information. Short, interactive training modules are how this generation loves to learn. Leveraging the notion of this generation wanting to know where to find information versus knowing the information, great companies provide short, interactive leaning bursts followed by practice (and feedback) from the trainer to build both knowledge and skill.
Technology continues to play an ever-growing (and important) role in the success of a restaurant brand. Market leaders such as Domino’s and Panera Bread have embraced technology in response to today’s consumer needs and translated that into incredibly successful concepts. Time to embrace technology!