Technology is always changing, and to stay at the forefront of the industry, restaurants must change with it. While it can be nerve wracking striving to keep up with modern restaurant technology, the main takeaway is that tech should be a benefit to you in the long run. It’s about driving more efficiency for your staff and a better overall experience for your guests. It’s not really about getting the newest and trendiest tech in the business just because it’s new and trendy.
There’s always going to be something new on the horizon, and no business can jump onto every tech trend as it presents itself. It’s neither financially nor operationally feasible. But when you have a need for more efficiency in your restaurant, that’s when you need to research carefully and find the restaurant technology trend that makes sense for you — and has the best shot at solving your specific problems.
Ready to explore? Here are three restaurant technology categories getting a lot of play in today’s market.
Modern POS (Point of Sale) Systems
One piece of technology worth looking into upgrading is your POS. For many restaurants, their POS system might still be an existing legacy from when they first opened their doors and it hasn’t been changed since. But upgrading or changing your restaurant technology in this area can be massively beneficial to your operation and bottom line. Ultimately, your POS system should make it easier — and faster — for your front and back of house to clearly communicate orders.
When you’re looking at the latest POS technology, think about what you need it to do in your restaurant — in front AND back of house. Consider:
- What will make your servers’ nights go more smoothly?
- What do the kitchen staff want to see when they get orders in?
- Will it help reduce errors in order taking or fulfillment?
- What would help you manage your business from a transactional and bookkeeping level?
- What do you want to know about your customer?
- How can it support marketing to grow your business?
- What type of tech support do I need?
- Can I manage to train everyone myself or do I need help?
- How does it create a positive customer experience (speed, convenience, etc.)?
A new POS can be a large capital expense, so it’s important to make sure it gives you what you need and provides a return on investment for your business.
Server Tablets for Full Service Restaurants
Many restaurants with table service are investing in tablets for their servers. Much like the larger POS system, the tablets would have the entire menu uploaded so your server simply has to tap in the order one item at a time.
Using tablets instead of paper and pens can mean less miscommunication from your guests to your server — and then from your server to your kitchen. Your servers don’t have to worry they missed an item while trying to write a big table’s order down, and you don’t have to worry about a server’s chicken scratch handwriting confusing your chef. And at the end of the meal, customers with credit cards can use the tablets to pay their bill right at the table, a method of payment that means a consumer’s card never has to leave their hands — a big perceived security plus!
That said, server tablets come with some challenges, but these can be overcome with proper management of the process and the tablets. Granted, if you have a big dining room and lots of servers on hand during any given shift, investing in enough tablets can become pricey. You also have to make sure they stay on the premises and are put away properly at the end of every shift. Training your servers carefully on how to use them will be critical, as will feeling comfortable enough to troubleshoot solutions if one of the tablets starts malfunctioning during a shift.
Touch Screen Tech for Limited Service Restaurants
Digital touchscreens are certainly not going away in everyday life, and this includes restaurant technology specifically designed for the customer. We’re starting to see touch screen ordering kiosks in restaurants that traditionally only offered counter service. These kiosks are also being found in Whole Foods and other grocery stores with made-to-order sections. The idea is to help keep customer flow-through reasonable — and enticing for consumers — even during a location’s busiest hours.
The ability to install kiosks doesn’t mean getting rid of your traditional counter service altogether, however. There will always be people who would rather have a human being take their order rather than a computer. But what it can mean is giving some of your customers a more convenient experience while opening up time for your staff to improve on your customer service.
McDonald’s has been experimenting with kiosk ordering for the past year in many locations and re-assigning staff who would otherwise be taking orders to delivering them tableside and inquiring if customers need anything. It’s a touchpoint that McDonald’s is hoping will make them more competitive with full service establishments.
If you’re planning to incorporate touch screen kiosks, you’ll want to make sure you have room for them in your restaurant in a place fairly close to your regular ordering stations. Ensuring that your overall flow-through isn’t disrupted or confused by its location is critical. You’ll probably also want some signage so that people unfamiliar with this kind of technology will know what it’s for.
And when it comes to picking a specific kiosk brand and model, make sure to look for ones that allow for a good amount of customization. Think about the various ways your customers ask to change a menu item (from taking off tomatoes from their sandwich to putting salad dressing on the side). If they go through the ordering process and can’t make those customizations, the kiosk could go from a convenience to a major frustration for that customer.
Another type of touchscreen device really gaining traction in the United States is the giant Coca Cola Freestyle machines that offer a multitude of soda varieties your patrons (or servers) can customize themselves. While it’s not that different from the traditional self-serve soda machines in quick serve restaurants for decades, the idea of choice and customization (especially when it’s a brand the customer is already familiar with) can be very appealing for customers.
While this type of vending costs more to operate than a standard drink machine, it can also lead to ways to upsell at your quick serve restaurant. If a customer was planning to just get a cup of water, this fancy soda machine could peak their curiosity and lead to a soda purchase instead.
These kinds of touch screen vendors aren’t just for soda — we’ve also seen ice cream and frozen yogurt customized touch screen dispensers pop up in the last year. Considering the investment required for this and other kinds of restaurant technology, you’ll need to think carefully about how each one could fit with your dining concept, your overall brand, and your customers’ needs. Is it simply fun and new, or is it truly useful and helpful?
Need a quick guide on how to choose a technology vendor that’s right for you? Download our free tool “How to Choose the Best Restaurant Suppliers” today!