8 technology trends that would transform the restaurant business in the following years

Posted on 20/06/2019 by Leszek Olszański

Speed, convenience, lower prices and… no interaction with employees. Generation-Z, the youngest group of consumers, born after 1996, their needs and habits are changing the restaurant business. The restaurant technology market is going to be an extremely innovative and demanding sector in the coming years. Those who don’t join the technological revolution will  quickly lose  market share.

30 years ago, the restaurant business was hardly an innovative one. Probably the only innovations were new dishes and some new interior design. When you take a close look at them now, you will notice that they work a bit like mobile applications. Nearly every month brings a new update, a new feature, be that with regards to the loyalty scheme, promotions or new hi-tech equipment. Most of them are designed to please tech-savvy Millennials and their even more tech-oriented successors Generation-Z. Their love for self-service and convenience, ability to squeeze the most out sales and loyalty systems and devotion to technology gadgets is a key  driver force for innovation within the whole industry. We have to remember that by 2020  people born after 1996 will finally become the largest group of consumers - more than 32 percent of the consumer population.

1. Self service-kiosks
One of the first signs indicating  the rise of Gen-Z is when kiosks began to appear in restaurants midway through the current decade. Now they appear by the thousand, left and right, allowing customers to get their meals faster and the restaurant managers to shorten queues. At the same time they increase  customer satisfaction. 50%, of Gen-Z don’t like to talk to the cashiers. That’s not the end, however. According to the latest research - only 44% of all customers prefer the human touch. This species is soon to be extinct.

2. Mobile Order-Ahead
What else is a restaurant self-service kiosk, if not  a large smartphone with a touchscreen interface? Actually a lot of them are tablets built-into the desk or table. So why not give customers the chance to use their smartphone instead? They can place an order sitting in the office and then quickly jump-in, collect the meal and return. Additionally they can place an order whilst sitting on the bus a few stops ahead of the restaurant. The popularity of this way of ordering has risen at the pace of 70% a year. Already 60% of mobile orders are Mobile Order-Aheads.

3. Voice ordering
Voice ordering is a natural enhancement of the previous feature. It is rather risky for a person driving a car to use a touchscreen interface to place an order.  Ok, Google, do you have a solution for this? Voice ordering is extremely convenient when you use a phone with a headset and even more so, when it is a built-in car function. Yes, in the United States many new rides are coming with voice food ordering already available on board. One touch at the car’s touchscreen, the user dictates the order, and that’s it. The car sends the order to the restaurant that’s on your way and within driving distance to allow you pick the order once it’s ready. The car’s GPS slightly modifies  your route, to make the whole operation even more frictionless.

4. Artificial intelligence
Listening to a customer’s voice can seem a bit dated these days.  Young and busy adults love, when somebody reads their mind. It’s not by accident, that on March 2019 McDonalds’s bought an Israeli startup developing advanced AI solutions. OK, let’s not exaggerate - perhaps not strictly AI, but machine learning. It’s purpose? Making the most accurate guesses and suggestions about what the customer actually wants at that moment. It’s boiling outside - let’s suggest an extra ice-cream. It’s freezing - what about  hot ginger tea? Customers click on the screen as fast as if they were crazy - perhaps they are in a hurry and we should offer them a meal that is  fastest to produce.

5. Chatbots
When they speak, most people like to be answered. Perhaps it’s not a matter of pure convenience, but of  better customer satisfaction. The fifth update that is coming to more and more restaurants is a chatbot engine. In 2019 about 7 bln USD will go through their virtual “hands”. According to the industry magazine Retaildive, this number is going to rise to… over 110 bln up to 2023. Brands that refuse to jump into the cart can only helplessly observe as  their competitors  lower their costs and make their service even faster. Chatbots are also an important element of the omnichannel strategy.

6. Omnichannel
Yes, omnichannel. Why does such an obvious choice end up  so low on the list? Well, first, it is not a single spectacular update but rather a never-ending stream of updates, meant to continuously improve  customer satisfaction. Second - this point includes all the updates mentioned above. Omnichannel is like a well known waiter, that always remembers your favourite meals, always finds a free place for you, even during  peak hours and from time to time gives you  freebies on the house. In the 21st century, his place is taken by a loyalty scheme, available round the clock, and through every channel that you use to contact the restaurant. A website, mobile app, self-service kiosk, telephone or Siri, Alexa and Cortana. Recognizing a customer it always remembers what they like and time and again surprises the client with bonuses. It can be discounts on selected products but also branded gadgets, new dishes, that loyal customers can try before their official market launch, birthday gifts and cooking lessons. During rush hours loyal customers appreciate nothing more than a free place without queueing.

7. Digital management
Machine learning can help better satisfy customers’ needs, it also helps  keep the restaurant clean and  orderly. The first brand to adapt this solution was Walmart, but it is also being adopted in restaurants, especially the biggest and busiest of them. The camera continuously monitors the interior and the pattern-recognizing algorithms check that litter is not spilling out of the bin, if a sufficient stack of paper cups is available to  customers and if the queue is moving at a satisfactory pace.  Human managers are  informed about the problems before they are able to notice them themselves.

8. Robots
We all knew that it would happen one day. We cannot be sure, for how long restaurant will be full of hard-working waiters, bartenders, cleaners and managers. Update no. 8 - robots are already here. The robot barista is already doing its job in selected coffee shops, as well as Blendid - the robot producing juices and smoothies from selected ingredients on an order placed via smartphone app or a self service kiosk.

Patrick Tomasso