Take a look at five technologies that will still be necessary in 2022.
Keeping customers happy by using the latest that technology has to offer is important for any hospitality company, especially for restaurants struggling to maintain a competitive edge. Guests and employees expect seamless, integrated experiences, which often require investing in the latest technological innovations, Chris Comparato, CEO of Toast, told FastCasual.
“Looking at the dining experience, for example, everything from search to reservation to pre-arrival to dine-in to exit is entering a new phase of digitization,” he said. “As such, employees will feel more and more empowered leveraging technology to deliver better guest experiences and feel more empowered and happy to work in a well-run restaurant.”
Greg Staley, CEO of SynergySuite, agreed, saying that the adoption of digital solutions was a trend that would continue in 2022.
“These tools have helped restaurants manage new cleanliness protocols, customer expectations and more since the pandemic began,” he told FastCasual. “They’ve also helped boost efficiency, productivity, accuracy, safety, and quality, all as restaurants continue to face pandemic-related staffing shortages.”
Below are five trends that industry insiders think will help brands accomplish their sales and customer service goals through the new year.
“Interestingly the initial driver for much of this innovation — COVID— isn’t even why it may stick around, said Aman Narang, COO and president of Toast. “QR codes at tables and more demand for takeout will actually be driven by labor shortages and rising prices. There has always been this belief that small business owners aren’t technologically savvy. But what we’ve learned is that when you provide owners with access to low cost, high quality, commission-free tools, they can not only compete with disruptive forces, but they can also really thrive.”
“Things like customized tags and cost reporting can create detailed, valuable forecasts,” he told FastCasual. “Accurate forecasts help drive ‘smart’ restaurant operations, like using daily sales to drive inventory decisions in smart ordering or smart prep. Forecasting can also help inform employee schedules that optimize your labor spend.”
Bill Valentas, CFO of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, said his team uses Restaurant365 for inventory management. “It makes us more efficient with inventories,” he told FastCasual. “It helps us control cost by analyzing our theoretical inventory compared to the actual inventory. This is where cost savings opportunities reveal themselves.”
3. Contactless payment systems
Contactless payment systems are still one of the biggest trends in retail today. Like the QR codes, they became even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mastercardreported that 80% of consumers polled in 2020 were using contactless payments. The study found that contactless payments are up to 10 times faster than other in-person payment methods, and 74% of consumers said they would continue to use contactless when the pandemic is over.
Restaurants — large and small — are embracing the trend. Starbucks, for example, recently partnered with Amazon to open Starbucks Pickup with Amazon Go in New York City. The store uses the order-ahead feature in the Starbucks app and Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out technology to create an easy checkout experience, alongside a modernized lounge that features individual workspaces and expanded tables with power outlets and USB ports. The retailers plan to open additional contactless payment stores in 2022.
4. High-tech feedback systems
Online ordering and delivery obviously help restaurants streamline operations by taking orders digitally across multiple channels (website, mobile apps, call center), but they can also be used to collect and respond directly to customer feedback.
The concept of instant communication with customers has long been the standard in other service industries with the proliferation of live chat and texting, but only recently has made its way into the mainstream of restaurant tech, said Zack Oates, founder of Ovation, a guest feedback platform that asks a 2-question SMS-based survey to get customers into the system. The restaurants have an app that takes 3 clicks to send a personalized apology to that guest. Then, the restaurant can follow up with additional questions, marketing texts, etc. to drive operational improvement and revenue.
“With the increase of off-prem, a lot of brands are looking for more ways to get that feedback and with the increased competition, now it is more important than ever to get that feedback and help the guests feel heard and solve the root of the issue,” he told FastCasual. “And while feedback is coming in from public reviews, third-party orders, online orders, loyalty apps, etc. etc., etc., there needs to be a unified way to aggregate, respond to, and analyze that feedback.
No matter how the guest is giving the feedback it is critical to remember that it has to be frictionless for the guest to give feedback, easy for staff to respond to that feedback, and powerful for corporate to see the trends of that feedback across all channels. If any of those ingredients is missing, you have a partial recipe for success.”
From burger-flippling and salad-making robots to machines powering order-taking, it’s safe to say that customers and restaurant brands are finding their grove with AI.
Take Sweetgreen’s April purchase of Spyce, for example. The Los Angeles-based salad chain acquired the creator of Infinite Kitchen, an automated culinary tool designed to balance the core elements of cooking technique, measurement and timing.
“We built Sweetgreen to connect more people to real food and create healthy fast food at scale for the next generation, and Spyce has built state-of-the-art technology that perfectly aligns with that vision,” Jonathan Neman, co-founder and CEO of Sweetgreen, told FastCasual.
The partnership will help Sweetgreen generate faster and more consistent orders, as well as allow team members to focus on preparation and hospitality.
“By joining forces with their best-in-class team, we will be able to elevate our team member experience, provide a more consistent customer experience and bring real food to more communities,” Neman said.
Sweetgreen wasn’t the first chain to see the benefit of bringing technology in-house. In 2019, McDonald’s acquired AI firm Dynamic Yield in hopes of using the company’s automated personalization product to build a better customer experience at its drive-thrus. The platform displays menu options based on time of day, weather, existing restaurant traffic and what’s trending. It also suggests menu add-ons based on each customer’s selections.
Restaurants are in a constant phase of improving their processes through automation, which has led to an omnichannel approach to servicing customers, Izzo said.
“The key in achieving an omnichannel strategy is heavily dependent on IoT solutions; connected and smart technology to deploy systems like self-order terminals, interactive menu boards, drive-thru automated kiosk and delivery systems,” he said
Cherryh Cansler is VP of Editorial for Networld Media Group and senior editor of FastCasual.com. She has been covering the restaurant industry since 2012. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine, among many others.
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