Sep. 30, 2015

Embrace It, Tech Is Here

by Carly Fisher

Enterprising venture capitalists and tech founders are scrambling for a piece of the $709.2 billion restaurant industry. But can these new apps and devices launched seemingly every other week actually benefit day-to-day operations?

It’s understandable that an industry built on human contact would resist technology. But forward-thinking restaurant operators are embracing technological advances and using them to grow. “You don’t want technology to replace human beings, but to supplement them,” says Bill Chait, managing partner of Sprout LA restaurant group in Los Angeles.

TechTable, a recent one-day summit that brought together leaders in the foodservice and tech industries in New York, showcased the top innovations. Here are a few of the ideas that may shape the restaurant industry within the next year.

Look for quiet technology

New York restaurateur Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park eschews glaring screens from his host stands and delivers hand-written bills to guests, but that doesn’t mean he shuns technology entirely. He invests in systems that quietly advance the guest experience from the back end, such as online reservation systems and customer tracking systems. “I’ve tried to eradicate technology, but I am now trying to embrace tech in a way that retains the human touch,” he says.

Lifestyle branding is the new social

Look at any major brand dominating social media and you’ll see a common thread: It’s all about “lifestyle branding,” or crafting an image of your restaurant. To appeal to the next money-spending generation of millennials, curated visuals are essential. Instagram is quickly surging as a place for operators to stand out and showcase their brand.

Whether it’s taking photos in-house, using a handful of hashtags to reel in new followers, or reposting images that followers tag you in—all strategies require quality. If you’re not adept at this type of marketing, tap a passionate staffer to take on social in-house and incentivize them with additional money or free food and drinks.

Get ready for cardless payments

In the way Uber has become synonymous for automatic mobile payments, many companies are vying to do the same for the restaurant industry. “Part of the feel-good experience of Uber is not taking money out of your wallet when getting out of the cab,” says restaurateur Josh Pickard of New York’s NoHo Hospitality Group.

While iPad POS systems and mobile readers bring the bill to the table, automatic payments from phone system (Apple Pay, Google Wallet) and reservation systems (OpenTable, Reserve) skip the bill portion of the evening entirely so diners can walk out without waiting for the server. That leaves a positive impression with diners, and gives restaurants more time to greet new diners and turn tables.

“Paying for anything can be a blow to the gut,” says Pickard. “The notion you can remove that is a positive experience for a restaurant so the guest leaves remembering the dessert or a conversation separately from paying for it.”

Is your restaurant trying out these tech innovations? Share your experiences on Facebook.

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