By Bill Draper
Like many U.S. cities, Washington, D.C. is full of new restaurant concepts. From tzatziki to tofu tacos, the spectrum of menu items found in D.C.’s marketplace spans every diet and appetite. In fact, at the end of 2013, the Washington Post proclaimed that the fast casual movement, in particular, in “D.C. is second to none” — and this makes it an ideal city to observe the industry’s growth.
A place I visit often — an Asian-inspired restaurant with a few locations around the city — typically sees lines out the door during the lunch rush. Not long ago, as I stood in one of these long lines, I looked on as a customer asked about something that required manager authorization. The cashier tried to summon the manager who had disappeared into the back and couldn’t be found. The result: the line came to a halt and the always-in-a-hurry lunchtime crowd grew frustrated. Two groups of customers toward the end of the line decided to leave, resulting in lost revenue and possibly even lost customers.
Needless to say, this is not optimal. As any restaurant owner knows, seconds matter in these circumstances. Every opportunity to optimize processes is critical. Managers often try to mitigate these sorts of situations by leaving their sign-in card at the counter for cashiers to use or by simply turning off managerial authorization altogether — “remedies” that open the establishment up to mistake or even abuse by some of the less scrupulous staff.
This is why restaurant owners and managers should perk up as news of “wearable computers” begins to penetrate the marketplace.
While wearable technology has yet to make a firm imprint in the restaurant world, its impact is clear elsewhere. From the celebrated (and hard-to-miss) Google Glass to less conspicuous smartwatches, wearables are combining the computing power of smartphones with the convenience of, well, the clothes and accessories we put on every morning. And companies as ubiquitous as Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft are hard at work trying to get new wearable products into the consumer sphere.
"In purely technological terms, the wearable revolution could take shape much faster than the mobile revolution that preceded it,” wrote Wired senior editor Bill Wasik in December.
So it’s only a matter of time before the restaurant industry benefits from the enormous potential of wearables, too. Restaurant owners are already moving away from the current crop of lumbering, out-of-date POS systems in favor of more nimble and innovative technologies. Wearables are poised to advance this inclination.
So how might wearables infiltrate restaurant operations?
To answer this question, let’s return to the long lunch line that’s been stalled by the need for managerial authorization at the counter. The manager, as we recall, was busy elsewhere and couldn’t be found. But if that manager had been wearing a device equipped to receive immediate notification directly from the POS system that a cashier needed authorization, the hiccup might have been addressed much quicker. The notification could come in multiple forms — a virtual heads-up via eyeglasses or a smartwatch, identifying the problem and need for action. It’s possible that the manager could even provide authorization directly from the glasses or watch, even while completing receipt of a delivery or talking on the phone to a supplier.
Wearable devices possess the potential to bring efficiency, intelligence and multi-tasking capabilities directly to the restaurant floor. Team members work together more effectively, customers are happier, and the sales stream continues to flow.
The initial benefits are clear — and we’re only beginning to imagine the full spectrum of possibilities. This is why technology leaders, including my development team at Gusto, are devoting considerable resources to devising wearable solutions that will streamline and improve restaurant operations.
Just as new-wave POS systems and payments technologies are doing now, wearables will bring a new face (sometimes literally) to tomorrow’s restaurant industry. From the corners of D.C. to the shop fronts of Denver, restaurant owners are gravitating to advanced technologies that build their brands and improve their bottom lines. And everyone from customers to managers to owners will reap the rewards.
Bill Draper is the founder, CEO and CTO of Gusto. He has developed products for managing small, neighborhood restaurants as well as those used in some of the world’s largest such as Hard Rock Café, Starbucks North America and more.
Photo provided by Wikipedia.