from APT's Restaurant Practice

New Year, New Technology: Beyond the Tech Hype

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by Carly Buchanan in Restaurants

As restaurants continue investing in cutting-edge programs from mobile ordering to artificial intelligence in the form of chatbot ordering and more, and technologies like digital ordering kiosks and menu boards remain an enticing option, there are many potential technology investments to evaluate. But which technologies actually move the needle? As restaurants strive to bring new tools to the table, they must continually evaluate which technology investments will work for their concepts, and in which locations, to stay ahead of guest preferences.

Some common initiatives include mobile order and pay options. Fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant Cava, for example, recently announced the launch of its new app, which aims to create personalized experiences for guests and features order and pay ahead capabilities. Cava’s app approach is not unique – it joins a growing list of restaurants that offer guests similar platforms to increase convenience and personalization. However, as the popularity of app offerings grows, so will the industry implications.

While there is likely very little downside to implementing mobile payment capabilities – in fact, they will probably become an industry standard within the next few years – order ahead options could have a direct impact on restaurant processes and labor. For instance, enabling guests to place orders before arriving might disrupt normal kitchen operations, overwhelming staff with the volume of orders made both remotely and within the restaurant. Restaurants will need to adjust accordingly, establishing new protocols to accommodate the influx of different orders, and perhaps changing staffing, with employees specifically designated to handle order ahead requests. Given the different factors at play, it will be difficult to know before actually trying it if the investment required to implement an order ahead program is justified.

Johnny Rockets is one example of a restaurant testing a new technology investment. As the chain moves from a sit-down restaurant to more of a quick-serve format, it is considering implementing self-order kiosks. As companies test features like kiosks, mobile ordering, and more to inform their decision-making, they may find that guests use these technologies often, but the payback varies based on the demographics in different markets (e.g., in markets with more millennials).

Guest preference is an important consideration. While self-order kiosks allow for speedier ordering and increased customization and convenience, some guests may prefer face-to-face interactions to these new, automated offerings.

Although executives may be eager to roll out trendy new technologies to keep up with their competitors, the scenarios above illustrate why knee-jerk reactions are likely not smart. Instead, executives should launch such initiatives on a small scale – with select markets, restaurants, or guests – before broader deployment. By leveraging this “Test & Learn approach, restaurants reduce the risk of deploying expensive technology investments that won’t pay back, while identifying opportunities to quickly adjust programs to maximize their success.

As restaurants embrace new technologies and seek to fuel their businesses, it is key that they innovate judiciously. By testing new ideas, they can more accurately determine which programs are the right fit for which guests and locations – and which programs they should wait and further monitor before rolling out.

Learn more here from APT Senior Vice President Jonathan Marek about the role of digital technology in restaurants.

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