Technology has given us more variety in meals than ever before. Bloggers regularly post recipes tailored to a multitude of diets, diverse groceries can be bought online, and there are dozens of apps to consult to order food straight to your door.
All of these innovations can be taken advantage of while at home. But what about actually going to a restaurant? When it’s so easy to get the food you want simply through a few clicks, the prospect of going out may seem daunting to many. Once you’ve decided what you want to eat, you still have to find a restaurant that serves the right cuisine, within your budget, within the distance you want to travel, with available tables, all made more complicated if you are going with friends who also have to take these considerations into account. Wouldn’t it be helpful if restaurants provided an omnichannel experience to take away the hassle that precedes a great night out?
Some restaurant and food chains are already making the experience of eating out more comfortable for customers. Starbucks, one of the early adopters of the omnichannel, rewards its devoted customers for their loyalty with its rewards card. The card can be reloaded via the Starbucks app or website, on the phone, or in-store, and the balance is updated automatically across all channels. So if you’re queuing for your morning coffee in your nearest Starbucks, trying to stay awake with masses of other caffeine-lovers, and you realise your rewards card may be low, you can quickly top it up on your phone before you get to the counter.
The US chain Panera Bread plans to revolutionize the restaurant industry with its new technologically advanced shops. Tired of the “one-size-fits-all” customer experience the chain was providing, founder Ron Shaich set out to tailor the service to each individual customer. Guests can now order their food from an iPad, include all sorts of customizations, and have it delivered to where they’re sitting, whether in the restaurant or out and about.
[Panera are] not just using technology for technology’s sake, but are utilizing it in a way that is enhancing the customer experience and catering to a younger demographic that increasingly uses mobile technologies and is accustomed to getting things to their own specifications quickly.
— Josh Sanburn, TIME
It isn’t too difficult to satisfy a sudden need for caffeine or a sandwich craving, or even a hankering for a greasy taco, and thanks to big restaurant chains it is now easier than ever to get the food you want as fast as possible. What if what you really want is a nice meal out with friends, something that provides a great social atmosphere in addition to delicious food? You can download an app for that.
Actually, you can download several, depending on what you consider the toughest part about finding a place to eat. If you can’t tell if a restaurant is better for a first date or a business meeting, use Hoppit, the “world’s first ambience search engine for restaurants and bars”. If you’re worried about missing a meeting if you pop out for lunch at work, try Allset, where you can book a table, pre-order food, and pay in advance, going to the restaurant simply for the actual consumption of your meal. If you don’t want to miss a night with your friends but you’re watching what you eat, Myfitnesspal now offers menu information for over 500,000 restaurants. Or, if you’re interested in the high-quality dishes offered at restaurants but have no desire to actually go out to eat, you can order from Eat First, an “online restaurant”. Top chefs prepare meals that customers pre-order, which are then delivered within a thirty-minute timeslot and reheated and served by the diner in their own home.
So what’s next in the restaurant industry?
Customer service is continually improving with an increase in guest-facing technology. In some restaurants, diners can now order food themselves using their phones or tablets at each table, cutting down their wait times and decreasing the likelihood a server might make an error. For families, technology at the table means kids can play games while waiting.
If you have a favourite restaurant, chances are you will be rewarded for your patronage. A 2015 Restaurant Technology Study revealed that 53% of participating restaurants are letting customer engagement and guest loyalty drive their technology projects. Hopefully this will lead to better restaurant-diner communication, and allow restaurants to save valuable guest data such as allergy information and favourite meals.
Of course, people are also consulting their devices to inform themselves about restaurants. In a world where 80% of web users will change their mind about a buying decision if presented with a negative review, restaurants need to provide the best service they can to avoid giving their guests any reason to leave unhappy. That’s why restaurants are also embracing technology to improve their offering. Some chefs create tech labs where they can test their meals before serving them to a wider audience. Others are taking advantage of the cloud to share recipes across multiple locations, as well as to order inventory “just-in-time” to provide the freshest ingredients to guests.
However, a complete technological interface is not a feasible option for every restaurant out there. While planning a dinner out may be a hassle for some, other diners enjoy traditional sit-down meals. Not every ambience is suitable for iPad ordering, and not every customer checks reviews before dining out. Some people enjoy suggestions from waiters and others want to have a conversation without the interference of smartphones.
Luckily, technology can be a blessing for the inner workings of a restaurant as well. New mobile terminals make it easier for small businesses to accept payments by card rather than just cash, cutting down the possibility of fraud or theft by employees. Apps like Shopbox allow restaurant owners to track their sales and inventory in real time.
It is inevitable that restaurants will continue to embrace new advances in technology to present their culinary vision to the world. Whether you’re looking to take your date on a romantic, candlelit evening, or you just want to get a taco as quickly as possible with your friends, there will always be a restaurant for you.