Tech in restaurants

Drazen Zigic | Shutterstock

By Mark Moeller | The COVID pandemic ushered in a lot of technology changes in every industry, and restaurants were no exception. With the call for more social distancing and increased demand for off-premise options, restaurants adopted many new technologies. They improved their point-of-sale systems, utilized online ordering and reservation apps, and instituted changes that allowed them to better meet guests’ needs to enjoy a meal without unnecessary exposure, including QR code menus and contactless delivery. Some of those changes allowed restaurants to streamline their processes and balance the growing demand for online ordering, which has persisted even as in-person dining has resumed. But other parts of the tech-enabled experience served only to enforce separation and depersonalized the restaurant experience, which thrives on human interaction and personal touches. Below, I offer some advice on technology to maximize the guest experience.

1. Invest in a good point-of-sale system.
An intuitive point-of-sale system is a must-have for a restaurant of any size—this means one that is easy to use, allowing for the ability to add or subtract items, pay, input gift cards, and integrate with any existing delivery app. I have witnessed clients literally transform their business and massively reduce the pressure of managing their operations by instituting a well-functioning point-of-sale system. In one case, I worked with a pizzeria where the owners had never had a night off on a Friday or Saturday night. Once they established a point-of-sale system that seamlessly handled ordering, they could focus on producing quality food, and the owners could finally take a night off knowing that operations were under control.

2. Capture guest information.
If you are an establishment that provides WiFi, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to capture a little information about your guests as they log on. Even if it is just their email, that’s valuable contact information that you can later use for marketing purposes, sharing specials and deals, and developing an ongoing relationship.

3. Consider table payment.
Paying at the table is widely embraced across Europe but is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. While it takes a bit of coaching from waitstaff, the practice allows restaurants to turn tables faster, improving their bottom lines and reducing guest wait time – both for guests waiting to be seated and those waiting to leave their tables.

4. Utilize social media and online marketing.
Now more than ever, guests are turning to Google when they are deciding where to eat. They are reading reviews on Yelp, asking for recommendations in their local Facebook groups, and checking out pictures of their favorite dishes on Instagram. It’s crucial to have an updated website with clear information and ordering guidelines as well as a social media presence. You want your content to include keywords that are SEO compliant so that someone searching for your type of restaurant in your area will be directed to you first. And remember that social media is not only a place to share information but to gather it. Staying on top of what competitors are offering and what items are trending can help you make decisions about what to feature and how to best serve guests in your area.

5. Invest in a high-tech kitchen.
There are numerous ways to incorporate technology into food preparation and cooking to streamline operations behind the scenes. This includes everything from pre-programmable Vitamix blenders to investing in Combi ovens that allow you to cook items with different cook times simultaneously and to increase quantities—including roasting multiple turkeys, for instance. These ovens reduce the skill needed to cook at scale and increase the speed of service.

6. Get rid of those QR code menus – or at least make them optional.
It’s no secret that many restaurants enjoyed the simplicity of scannable QR codes, which replaced menus during the pandemic. It certainly cut down on printing costs and allowed restaurants to quickly update their menus or specials. But the experience of the guest at the table is fundamentally changed by the need to pick up the phone, scan a code, and peruse a menu on their device. It reduces interaction (pointing to items, talking about them with others), and it removes the tactile experience of ordering from a handheld menu that is distinct to that place in look and feel. Unless a business values convenience above all else, I advise restaurants to offer a paper menu to guests, many of whom are eager to resume a more traditional dining out experience. Remember, going to a restaurant is about more than speed and efficiency.

Ultimately, people are dining out for a memorable experience, and that includes everything from the service, to the meal, to the menu.