Hop on the restaurant technology train to break new ground.
Advances in technology are revolutionizing almost every single industry across the world. Just as supermarkets are offering self-checkouts and banks have replaced human beings with automated tellers, restaurants are following the trend by using automation to make many of their processes easier and more cost effective.
As a restaurant owner or manager, it’s a good idea to stay current on this developing technology and to investigate the ways it can improve and expand your business. Here are just a few ways restaurants are using automation today.
4 Restaurant Automation Innovations
1. Tableside Systems: May We Take Your Order?
Recently, tablets have been showing up on more and more tables in American restaurants. Applebee’s and Chili’s now have these tableside devices available so guests can order their meals, play games, and even pay their bills on a tablet. However, not everyone is a proponent of these sometimes intrustive devices, which can take away from the guest experience.
Other establishments, including McDonald’s and Boloco, have started installing self-ordering kiosks in some locations. This new technology is not only convenient and enticing to many customers (especially the millennials and members of Generation Z), it’s also cost and time efficient, as orders immediately fire to the kitchen.
Finally, many servers are using tablets for tableside ordering, firing drinks to the bar and food to the kitchen as soon as the guest orders them. This can improve turn time and efficiency in the kitchen and in the dining area.
2. Online Ordering: Taking It On The Run!
Imagine how happy all of your customers will be when they can place their orders from their smartphones! Big brands like Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza, and Taco Bell, as well as smaller independent restaurants like Paris Creperie in Boston, have been offering mobile ordering to increase revenue.
In fact, research published by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the media platform Viggle estimates that 69% of mobile users place food orders via their phone, tablet, or other device. The ability to quickly order food on the go and pick it up without having to wait in line is a highly-valued feature by customers of all ages, so if you want to earn their loyalty, hop on board by going mobile!
3. Self-Serve Beer: Keep it Coming!
Who said that bars don't have room to automate, too? Companies like Pour My Beer are allowing customers to, well, pour their own beer. Instead of waiting in line for your bartender to pour you a pint from the tap, customers can access their favorite beers whenever they want. During crowded events or televised games, this could be a game-changer for your bar or brewery to cut down on waste and sell twice as much beer.
Of course, this system must be regulated. In order to access the "beer wall," customers must buy a radio-frequency identification (RFID) enabled wristband or card to access the machine. Then they simply tap the access point, select a beer, and start pouring. The units dispense only 32 ounces and no more than two beers at a time and the customer pays for exactly what they pour. When the limit is reached, customers can reactivate for more pints.
4. No Human Contact: How About (Almost) Fully Automated?
Walk into Eatsa, a fast-food restaurant in San Francisco pictured at the top of this article, and you’ll never deal with another human while getting your food. Customers place orders at a kiosk, wait until a glass cube lights up with their name and, voila, bowls of quinoa with a variety of fresh, healthy toppings magically appear. Patrons never see hosts, servers, cashiers, or the kitchen workers, who are hidden behind the glass wall.
Convenience isn’t the only benefit of this wholescale automation. Reduced overhead allows the groundbreaking chain—which has two restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with plans to open 10 more this year—to offer a full meal for only $6.95.
Eatsa states a goal “to democratize access to nutritious food … at an unprecedented price.”
Why Automate Your Restaurant Operations?
Customer satisfaction is considered the primary factor in the move to automation, but the recent affordability of technology and increasing labor costs are also driving the trend.
“In 2015, 14 cities and states approved $15 minimum wages—double the current federal minimum,” writes Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, in The Wall Street Journal. “Dramatic increases in labor costs have a significant effect on the restaurant industry, where profit margins are pennies on the dollar and labor makes up about a third of total expenses. As a result, restaurants are looking to reduce costs while maintaining service and food quality.”
The Future is Now
Technology’s continued impact on the restaurant business is undeniable. The questions remain, though: how far will automation go, and could it make full service a thing of the past? If that sounds extreme, consider this: Domino’s Pizza has developed a prototype of a self-driving robot that delivers hot pizza and cold drinks in Australia. YO! Sushi has tested out flying service trays in London. And Silicon Valley startup Tacocopter is, well, delivering tacos via unmanned drone helicopter. We may not have the flying cars we dreamed of as kids, but tacos from the sky isn’t too shabby.
Automation will likely never completely replace full service establishments – after all, some folks still enjoy a little more customer service and human interaction. But establishments that embrace these new tools and devices, where they make sense, will reap the benefits of increased customer satisfaction and possibly grow their market share among tech-savvy members of the younger generations. Lower costs, higher efficiency, and improved service—now that’s progress.
Get more tips on how to run a successful restaurant by reading my book, “The Profit Recipe.” In it, I share my knowledge and experience as a veteran in the restaurant industry and provide tips on how to run a successful, efficient business.