Restaurant technology in 2022 looks a lot like what past generations would have imagined: handheld devices placing autonomy in the hands of guests; robot servers; tailored offerings based on algorithms compiled from consumer data and historical trends; and touchless screens operated by hand gestures. This is the new world of foodservice; the future has arrived.
Blast from the Past: The (Re)-Rise of QR Codes
Although the first QR code was invented more than 20 years ago, its popularity waned over the last decade. However, over the course of the pandemic, QR codes saw a rise in use, most noticeably in the foodservice space.
Jenny Companion, VP, Consulting Operations of The Fifteen Group, a restaurant consulting agency in Toronto, attributes this surge to the need to eliminate areas of contamination, such as physical menus, and to provide access to documentation. “QR codes make accessing digital menus quick and easy and put any pertinent information at guests’ fingertips. When contact tracing was introduced, QR codes also made it simple for guests to fill out their information and store it in a secure place, again without the risks associated with using physical forms, both in terms of health and privacy.”
She continues, “Easily providing information to guests, whether it be menus, contact-information forms, or other information, has been the number-1 use for QR codes in restaurants. They provide ease of use for both guests and operators to view and share food-and-drink offerings, promotional and programming information, nutritional information and more.”
Companion says QR codes are here to stay for 2022. “While we may see the traditional menu return, many operations have now realized the many benefits of using QR codes and have seen the ease with which consumers are able to use them.” She notes that this tech is a fast and efficient way to update information, contributing to its continued use. “Now, menus can be changed and viewed in a matter of minutes, saving significant time and money. Certain promotional materials that stay static may continue to be produced manually, but QR-code menus will remain in place for their many benefits.”
Appy Hour: 3rd-Party and Proprietary Apps
App developers and big tech upped their game over the past few years to offer restaurants more ways to reach more customers in times of lockdowns and restrictions — most notably, delivery and takeout apps, which are here to stay. Companion believes the push for takeout and delivery will remain strong for quite some time. “Using third-party delivery apps will remain important to make your menu accessible to a wider range of customers.”
But signing your restaurant up for an app-based service such as UberEats isn’t the only method to target customers. Craver, a Vancouver-based company, provides custom-branded mobile apps within four weeks for restaurants. Amin Yazdani Salekdeh, CEO of Craver, says a custom-branded mobile app can offer a better experience for customers and reduce the workload for staff. And, its popularity increased during the last 24 months. “We immediately saw a 155-per-cent increase in incoming requests from restaurants looking for a solution to help them stay open and keep their staff and customers safe. The increase continued throughout 2020 and 2021,” says Yazdani Salekdeh.
Intelligent Information: Data Collection and Use
Deriving insights from your POS and integrated apps is a must have for foodservice in 2022.
Bryan Solar, GM Restaurants at Square says restaurants that move to cloud-based POS systems are able to unlock large amounts of data that they previously would never had access to. “A great example would be customer data, which can be used to drive increased customer engagement. By knowing things like how often customers order, how much they spend and which customers haven’t come by in a while, restaurants can create enhanced experiences for current customers and re-engage customers who have potentially stopped ordering at that particular location.”
Mo Chaar, Chief Commercial Officer at Givex, says it comes down to the right information. “While leveraging data insights was a survival mechanism for the industry at the beginning of the pandemic, proficiency in data-reporting technology will determine which restaurants thrive in the post-pandemic industry landscape. It’s an issue of quality versus quantity. Restaurant operators don’t want more data, they want more useful data. This is why having the right technology-solutions partner that can offer all-in-one reporting solutions that will aggregate all their different data streams, and provide customizable reporting will be a priority.”
Solar sums it up well, “Essentially, more data means better choices. And, in an industry that’s as competitive as the food-and-beverage industry, restaurants can significantly benefit from access to better, faster data that a POS system can provide.”
Can’t Touch This: Touchless Tech
Contactless technology has picked up over the past two years, with tap-to-pay often requested by restaurants, and cash now commonly refused.
Chris Adams, vice-president of Strategy at Oracle Food and Beverage notes that with social distancing in place for the near future, a contact-free business model is a smart approach to increase speed of service and reduce risk and labour costs.
Smartphone technology isn’t the only place operators are looking to reduce physical touchpoints. In-house touchscreens can be a great way to limit interaction between staff and guests, even between service staff, but screens need to be cleaned and sanitized as with any other surface.
Enter Ultraleap, an award-winning TouchFree application able to turn any touchscreen into a touchless interface. Saurabh Gupta, the director of OOH Product at U.S.-based Ultraleap says any restaurant tech, such as touchscreen menus, back-of-house order screens, even touchscreen kiosks or displays, can be integrated. “All you need is the TouchFree software and one of our camera modules to create a touchless experience.”
Ultraleap research revealed that 82 per cent of consumers were confident that touchless interfaces would be more hygienic and provide better protection. Gupta says consumers are ready for touchless solutions, and says the already high demand will likely increase. “While the pandemic catalyzed demand for touchless kiosks, the appeal of touchless technology goes far beyond immediate hygiene concerns. Touchless technology is converging with ultra-fast 5G connectivity and IoT. Together, they’re powering new and more engaging user experiences across self-serve kiosks, interactive digital signage and experiential marketing.”
Automation Nation: Robotics in Action
Miso Robotics’ automated robot Flippy turned heads as well as burger patties when it was introduced a couple of years ago. Now Flippy2 works the deep-fry station and can crisp chicken wings to perfection, with minimal human interaction.
And robots are not just behind the scenes, but at the forefront, too. Las Vegas-based Richtech Robotics developed Matradee, an autonomous food runner designed to drive efficiency and create a memorable experience for guests. Miko Zhong, the Marketing director at Richtech Robotics says, “Not only can Matradee run the food and help with bussing the tables, but it can also be programmed to speak multiple languages, process payments, take orders and even sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”
Pre-pandemic, encountering a robot carrying your chicken parmesan might have felt a little, say, impersonal? But months of distancing, PPE and sanitizing have changed minds. Zhong says that when coming into contact with a robot “server,” the feedback has been very positive. “[Matradee] increases the productivity in the bussing/running process while lighting up customers’ faces with its novelty and customized features. In fact, the overall dining experience has been improved a lot.”
BY ANDREA VICTORY