Technically Speaking: How Your Restaurant Technologies Can Save the Day
We all know about the difficulties caused by coronavirus-related protocols, from lockdowns to capacity maximums in public forums. The pandemic has irrevocably rocked the world, creating a crisis in restaurants that rely heavily on off-premise service to stay in operation. As restrictions slowly loosen and evolve around the globe, operators face new challenges to engage an understandably cautious public, eager to safely dine out again. Whether it’s delivery or enhancing socially distant protocols, restaurant technologies are critical to a safer, more health-conscious future.
What To Do With What You Have
There’s a lot of great technology either recently introduced to the world or on the horizon. In the short-term, you can do plenty using what you have right now. Outside of kitchen appliances, the three most common pieces of restaurant technologies already in your restaurant:
- Kitchen Display System (KDS) – Designed to minimize bottlenecks in your kitchen, a robust KDS reduces ticket times without sacrificing quality.
- Restaurant Waitlist and Table Management Solution – Used for organizing the flow and seating of your incoming guest traffic, these front-of-house regulate reservations, waitlisting, and more.
- Point of Sale (POS) – This is cashier technology that manages customer payment transactions, while sometimes serving as the external point of contact for incoming off-premise delivery orders.
Each of these technologies enriches your operation by solving pain points in your kitchen or front-of-house (FOH). Let’s look at how you can build on each of these assets to immediately improve and augment your restaurant’s efforts.
As quarantine restrictions slowly evolve, more and more people are electing to dine in. Contactless technologies decrease interactions between your staff and guests, lowering the possibility of viral contamination. Contactless technology might appear as one of the following:
- QR Codes — From menus to reservations, QR codes allow guests with smart devices to peruse and order menu items without touch anything.
- Remote Waitlisting/Reservations — Approximately ⅕ of all diners surveyed have reported that they want virtual waitlists. By using this function, they can scan a QR code to reserve a seat or set up a reservation.
- SMS Texting — This allows patrons on a waitlist or with a reservation to receive an SMS text message to alert them when their table is ready.
- Order Ready Screens — These displays establish a timeframe for order receipt without person-to-person contact.
In each of the cases above, contactless restaurant technologies operate through the use of existing devices. Reservation features route through your restaurant management platform, while orders and menus transmit information to your KDS. Likewise, order ready screens communicate with your KDS to show real-time updates for the order completion.
Streamlined Off-Premise Functionality
As mentioned, off-premise dining has helped carry the restaurant industry through difficult times, with 75% of operators reporting off-premise as their optimal path forward. Fortunately, your existing restaurant technology stack can help with that. Some KDS and restaurant management platforms provide the support for off-premise delivery aggregators, that help distinguish where each order is going. Off-premise delivery aggregators:
- Separate orders by type (delivery, curbside, or takeout).
- Send out SMS texting for contactless delivery.
- Help manage in-house and off-premise orders to prevent bottlenecks.
Even in the best of times, the turnover rate in the restaurant industry was 74.9% per annum, but since pandemic-related lockdowns and limitations, ⅔ of restaurant industry workers have lost their employment. Fortunately, recipe viewers, and your KDS or restaurant management platforms can provide guidance for onboarding new employees.
A recipe viewer has the obvious function of spelling out how each meal is prepped, but as with robust KDS or FOH restaurant technologies, can be programmed for more. Need to submit reminders for your kitchen staff to sanitize their station? How about a little nudge for your FOH staff to restock sanitary items? No problem. In each case, phantom tickets (items that are not meals) can be programmed in to serve as visual reminders or instructions on what to do, when to do it, and how to accomplish each task.
What’s On The Horizon
Next, we turn to the not-quite-future, but tech that exists the day after tomorrow, or that you’re less likely to already have in your restaurant. These are devices that exist, but only in select, growing markets.
Restaurant Technologies: Inside & Out
Due to capacity restrictions, many restaurants have used the summer weather to their advantage, by expanding their outside seating arrangements. Decreasing temperatures threaten outdoor seating, which has led to a host of technological innovations. The majority of outdoor tech is practical, focusing on using the environment in your favor, be that for weather protection or shade. As more guests opt to dine in their vehicles, parking lot management programs have developed to reflect the general functionality of restaurant management platforms.
Inside, some enterprising restaurateurs have sought out technology to help create a cleaner, safer environment. UV light has shown to have some effect on destroying the coronavirus, leading some owners and operators to install them inside. Similarly, after evidence indicated that the virus is spread through air conditioning, some restaurateurs have turned to air scrubbers to help and minimize contamination through their internal ventilation.
Robots, Robots, Robots!
You read that right: robots are here and have been for a few years now. Because of the coronavirus, implementing robots in the restaurant workforce has increased to match demand. The idea is simple: by excluding human contact, you can lower the potential risk of contamination from sickness. Still, there are many consumers who are hesitant to welcome robots into their community space. Keep that and the total purchasing and maintenance costs in mind if you choose to install a burger flipper or robo-waiter into your tech stack.
The Return of the Automat
For our last entry, we look back to move forward. If you aren’t already familiar, automats are self-serve restaurants that date back nearly a century. In an automat, customers select a meal, which originally was carried up to them via dumbwaiters that they purchased like a vending machine. Now, automats are moving into their next phase, using smart technology to connect users and their selections. Given the prevalence of ghost kitchens, which would make ideal partners with automats, expect this format to see a resurgence in the near future.
The Restaurant of Tomorrow
Having explored what you might already have and what you can only now pick up, we turn to the future. These are innovations on the bleeding edge, technologies that exist in some nascent form, but which are still in development.
An extension of contactless tech, holographic interfaces rely on gestures and movement to allow guests to make selections. Holographic interface technology is a combination of the beam tech that enables things like motion sensitivity in gaming, and a touchscreen. Serving as the front end of a digital kiosk, a holographic interface would prevent the spread of sickness through surface-to-surface contact.
At the moment, facial recognition technology is available, although it’s still evolving in use and public acceptance. In an effort to mitigate exposure to potential contaminations, pay-by-facial recognition is becoming more and more feasible as a hands-free and secure payment option. In spite of this, there are still some social and medical concerns about the long-term viability of this option, so proceed with caution.
Right now, many eateries across every spectrum have turned to restaurant technologies to solve modern-day problems. With existing and developing tech, there are many opportunities to enhance existing business practices and gird restaurants for whatever the future might hold. As always, tech companies aren’t just looking to today, but tomorrow’s problems, with some racing to produce cleaner spaces free of contagion. What will the restaurants of the future look like? They are already cleaner, safer, and more efficient than ever before.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. At home, like the rest of the world right now, he’s finding time to play with the kids and create art.