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The Connected Restaurant of the Future Holds Promise


Every industry wrestles with the challenges of selecting and implementing new digital technologies, and the restaurant business is no different. Many restaurants today are experimenting with digital change "around the edges." For instance, they are implementing digital ordering kiosks or back-end inventory management. The immediate benefit of these changes is automating tasks that are typically manual operations for most restaurants. However, these types of changes do not provide guests and employees with a truly new experience. To offer a truly unique and new experience, restaurants must implement technology that allows them to become a "connected" restaurant. This article from Fourth discusses how a connected restaurant will operate and how restaurants today can take small steps toward offering their employees and customers a unique experience.

The Restaurant of the Future

What would a connected restaurant look like? In a restaurant where all of the operations are connected together digitally, a restaurant shift manager would be able to stand and look out at his or her restaurant, at each of the tables, through augmented reality technology and understand how long guests have been waiting to receive their food and connect any delays back to the kitchen management system to identify potential issues. Every seat in the restaurant would have a digital track: the manager and servers would know the guest is there, sitting in that seat, watching him place an order, ensuring that food and drinks arrive in a pre-set amount of time (to the minute), and so forth.

But before the guest even arrives at the restaurant, the connected restaurant would begin serving the guest. Through opt-in tracking of mobile devices, restaurants can know when regular guests are headed for their restaurant, allowing them to prepare for their arrival, recognizing them when they enter the door and enabling staff to greet them personally. A customized digital kiosk could display the guest’s most frequent orders and special deals personalized just for him. On Fridays, the guest preference might be for a beer, so the restaurant offers a two-for-one. On Saturday, the guest preference might be wine, so the restaurant knows to make a different offer. 

If the guest prefers, he or she could pre-order his food on the way to the restaurant and, once at the table, kitchen staff could begin the preparations immediately, reducing wait times significantly. Additionally, the connected restaurant can allow guests to build-their-own recipes. The kitchen would be so well connected to the guest that the chef can see a graphic display of food made-to-order with guest preferences and how they would like the food cooked.

One of the biggest restaurant guest grievances is waiting on payment. On average, most guests wait 11 minutes to pay their check. The connected restaurant eliminates this wait time with a payment process similar to a ride-share experience. From start to finish, the connected restaurant will deliver a whole new level of experience that guests will come to expect. And the experience can be made available to anyone, not just favorite guests at their favorite restaurants. With all of this data stored and processed in the cloud, guests can broadcast this same data to new restaurants in new areas, so when they are traveling away from home, nearby restaurants will be able to recognize and conform to those guests’ preferences.

Today, restaurant owners and operators struggle to understand how an individual restaurant is performing in comparison with other outlets in a particular area. Technology vendors will be able to aggregate data across multiple restaurant groups and identify “foot fall” in particular zip codes or at a particular shopping mall. Benchmark sales goals for restaurant managers could then be set against area “foot fall” increases or decreases, a more accurate performance mark than those used today.

Moreover, the connected restaurant will handle cross-data analysis of store performance. It will compare, for example, customer review site data with post-shift employee surveys. Did employees note being under-staffed while customers griped about wait times? Even though the staff might be happy about a busy shift because they received a lot of tips, customers might have felt unsatisfied with slow or inattentive service. While this is but one simple example, these types of performance patterns will be clearer in the restaurant of the future than they are today.

Getting Started

Many executives at leading restaurant businesses realize the potential of these digital technologies. Amid the excitement over the possibilities of transforming the guest and employee experience, they always want to know what smaller steps they can take to get started today, given how transformative a truly connected restaurant is.

The critical first step is to get the foundation right: for a connected restaurant to be successful, it needs a lot of data. Therefore, it’s essential to have clean, accurate master data on employees, customers and products. Then, identity and access management is the next critical element to consider. For most restaurants, the majority of employees do not have a corporate email account or Windows log-in. As a result, identity and access management needs to be established through a secure account that they can access through their mobile devices.

With these foundational steps in place, operators should pull their key technology vendors together, share their vision for the employee and guest experience, and then challenge them to innovate. Prioritize the innovations and don’t be afraid to fail, but fail fast and move on quickly. While historically, technology vendors have been kept at arm’s length and asked to deliver point solutions, a deeper partnership with them will be required for a transformation to the truly connected restaurant of the future. 

Finally, the connected restaurant will increasingly be tied to competitiveness. Most restaurant employees bring with them expectations for mobile and digital technologies in the workplace. If they feel a restaurant operator is falling short of those expectations, they will head for another employer. Therefore, the connected restaurant will become critical to recruitment and retention of employees. Likewise, though at a slower pace, most guests are increasing their expectations for personalized, instant customer service enabled by digital technologies. 


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