There's a good argument to be made that the restaurant industry is stuck -n a rut, even as it teeters on the brink of what may be a tough couple of years. It's a business that's screaming for change in the many ways discussed in the first part of this series yesterday.
Technology could be a big part of the answer. Exponential improvements in foodservice technology can, in fact, not only help accelerate industry growth, but also trim the costs that have grown into a heavy layer of fat weighing down once lean and agile brands. And that all begins with the technology that's transforming the tableside experience.
Tableside and tablet kiosks are nothing new to the restaurant industry. Major chain restaurants like Chili’s, Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Olive Garden already make good use of them throughout their stores. And, as a result, both customer and chain are reaping the benefits, including:
• Far fewer order-taking errors.
• Less server time spent tableside.
• Increased customer control of speed of service.
• Customer access to a single tableside device to pay, order, play games and even engage.
• Enhanced payment processing security.
• Fingertip guest access to loyalty program rewards and benefits.
Perhaps just as important as these features and benefits, is the information this technology yields for restaurant operators about customers' preference. Used wisely and frequently, this kind of of-the-moment data not only gives restaurateurs valuable insight at all levels of the system, but also gives operators a direct path to providing a more personalized, return-worthy experience.
Both Wendy’s and McDonald’s have recently announced investments in standalone kiosks. No doubt, leadership at these brands seeks to cut labor costs and improve operational efficiencies as a result.
For customers, this means less time spent in those much-abhorred lines, as well as greater customization control, and fewer points for possible friction through encounters with the middlemen needed to place and retrieve orders. But, keeping our eyes wide open here means we have to face the fact that there is a trade-off.
Yes, many customers will enthusiastically jump on board all forms of self-service tech for the benefits it offers in great control over their ordering accuracy and payment. Nonetheless, there is a price in the loss of some opportunities for human interaction that some customers really do want.
Restaurant brands need to answer questions about what it means for their particular brands to remove some of the human engagement from the dining experience. Likewise, the foodservice industry as a whole needs to really investigate and open up a conversation about how automation at all levels will, or more importantly, shouldchange the industry. Again, there is a choice to be made industry-wide and with individual businesses when it comes to automation.
When it comes to self-serve technology, all the players involved, from individual restaurant operators to those leading entire companies of brands, must know the value and preferred method of customer service for their brand. Only then, can a well-informed picture be created of what kinds and how much technology their operations should employ. Part of that is knowing some of the leading self-service technologies today, and here are two worth noting:
Tomorrrow in the final part of this series, we'll look at the risks and benefits of total automation of a food service brand, as well as the use of robotics, software and sensor technologies.
For more information on improving the customer experience, visit The Interactive Customer Experience Association. Its mission is to help brands apply technology to the goal of creating transcendent customer experiences. The ICX Association is a vital hub that connects users and suppliers in collaborative forums, be they virtual or physical, to understand how seemingly unrelated technologies can be integrated to create experiences so meaningful that customers can’t imagine doing business elsewhere. (The Association's website, icxa.org, is a sister site to this one.)