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08/17/2022

ICYMI: RTN Town Hall Recap: Kitchen to Curb - Restaurant Tech To Go

Takeout tech is taking off. Restaurant operators and tech vendors share what’s hot now and where the industry is headed. 
Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor - Restaurants
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Takeout became table stakes during the pandemic, and restaurants are seeing zero signs of it slowing down. Leading restaurant operators and tech vendors shared successes and opportunities managing sustained demand for off-premises dining during Restaurant Technology Networks Town Hall, Kitchen to Curb: Restaurant Tech To Go on August 11.

“To really remain healthy throughout this time, we've had to meet the customer where they are, and that means that we've had an increasing shift from dine-in guests to off-premises guests that has required us to change the way we approach the guest in the business,” said Brian Pearson, CTO, Mendocino Farms. During the height of the pandemic, the operator saw off prem sales surge from 10% to 75% of sales. “…I think we're seeing another shift with this kitchen to curb where we have to figure out new ways to meet the guest. And there are some really innovative technologies that are coming around to meet that need.”

From speed of service to order accuracy, restaurants are tapping tech to get the right orders from inside the four walls into consumer hands - as quickly as possible.

El Pollo Loco, HT’s 2021 Breakthrough Award winner in the Customer Engagement category,  has embraced tech innovation, rolling out an updated loyalty program; adding FlyBuy’s GPS-enabled curbside pick-up, and piloting door-to-backyard drone delivery

Clark Matthews, VP of IT, El Pollo Loco, is among the technologists looking for what’s next. “We're always looking for more options and channels to offer a guest service and food on their terms,” he said.

Stonefire Grill is among the brands seeing strong and sustained off-prem sales. “We haven't really seen that much loss of share of the takeout, since we've been kind of coming out on the other side of the pandemic,” explained Matthew Calabrese, Controller.

According to the National Restaurant Association's 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report, 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z adults say purchasing takeout or delivery is now essential to the way they live.

This sustained demand for off-premises orders presents an opportunity. “How do we make the process as easy for our guests as possible?,” questioned Calabrese. At the same time, there’s the perfect storm labor shortage, “so you're trying to do more for your guests with less. It's really figuring out how to get the most efficiency.”

Challenge: Decentralized Commerce Channels

Rom Krupp, Founder and CEO, OneDine, said, “COVID-19 taught us one thing: to be agile.  Building agility is the key right now.” 

Pointing to the separate components for on-premise, off-premise, third-party delivery marketplaces and ghost kitchens, “Commerce is so decentralized … It needs to be one thing so that operators can accurately understand their real capacity, cook time and throughput across all channels. Communicating to guests the right quote times is very critical,” Krupp explained.

Brian Wayne, VP Customer Success, QSR Automations, agrees, adding that commerce centralized into a single engine will allow restaurants not only create a better experience for guests, but also optimize the kitchen and reduce friction in the employee experience.

Jeff Baskin, Chief Business Officer ofFlybuy, said they’re positioning themselves as “air traffic controllers” so that staff can efficiently manage the orders coming from multiple channels.  

Challenge: Capturing Payment In Advance

Due to labor pressures at the start of the pandemic, Stonefire Grill introduced a call center that operated only during dinner hours. Staff working from home were able to take calls remotely through the VOIP system and enter the orders directly to the POS, which helped on-site staff.  Based on its success, it is now operating during all business hours, and credit card information is captured over the phone, helping with another issue: payments.

“...We weren't seeing enough of our guests paying before they arrived,” explained Calabrese.  “Since launching with OneDine, we've seen our payment rates(prior to the guest arriving) reach about the 70% mark, which we're pleased with. We do want to see it continue to increase, but we are happy.”

Challenge: Order Accuracy

“When the pandemic hit everything kind of flipped to focus on off-premise, it became a little bit less about speed of service and more about order accuracy,” explained Wayne. “We saw a huge overall emphasis on order accuracy.”

To ensure order accuracy, Krupp suggested generating a label for every item, including the often-forgotten condiments. And work off a checklist that tells the expediter the exact number of labels that should be in the bag, he added. 

In addition to sticky label printing, Wayne said a lot of restaurants reimagined operations flow, as well.  QSR Automations’ system includes a tagging feature where users tap on an item, and digitally cross it off the list. “Restaurants tie the label printing to that action, so you could tap your way down the screen, grab the label and attach it,” Wayne explained.

For more information about joining RTN and listening in on these discussions, or participating in them as a speaker,  visit https://restauranttechnologynetwork.com.