Volume 47, Issue 11
Written By: Denise Deveau
[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]echnology has become integral to delivering the optimum customer experience in foodservice. From mobile payment and kiosk ordering systems to interactive touch technology and loyalty programs, today’s restaurateurs are learning that it’s all about keeping tech-savvy consumers happy.
According to Jackie Rodriguez, senior manager with Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consulting firm, a lot of technology is being “threaded in” through POS, inventory control and staff management, but the focus today is on front-of-house, consumer-facing activity.
That said, when it comes to investing in technology, the industry has not been on the cutting edge. “The consumers are really the ones driving it,” says Rodriguez. “And now that technology is getting cheaper and easier, this may be the year things turn around, because operators will be able to take advantage of technology they didn’t before.”
But, there are many independent restaurant owners, and they’re not pushing tech changes. “In most cases they’re too busy running a business, but technology will make their worlds more convenient and easier. Even basic [innovations such as] Wi-Fi create a fuller experience,” says Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant & Foodservice Association (BCRFA)
Bringing technology where customers can see it delivers significant value. “Even simple things like [having] customer-facing screens on cash registers, putting out brand messages and detailing transactions improves contact,” says Warren Price, EVP for New York Fries (NYF) and South St. Burger Co.
So what tech trends are operators watching with interest these days? The following are technology trends that experts forsee gaining considerable traction
“Mobile technology has the greatest appeal in terms of the customer experience,” says Price. “For many, mobile is simply an extension of what they’re used to doing online.”
There’s no hiding from the power of mobile payment. “These days, more payment [processes] are being connected to smartphones or tablets,” confirms Rodriguez. “[This includes] any mobile app or wireless payment that doesn’t involve handing over a credit card. The biggest headlines over the past couple of months have been around the rollout of Apple Pay with major players such as Subway, Starbucks and McDonald’s.”
The availability of standardized platforms for making mobile payments and a drive to reduce credit-card handling has led to increased mobile payment adoption in recent months. “The appeal is that it streamlines payment processes in any environment; there’s not much of a learning curve; and those who try it have been pleased with the efficiency and speed of the payment experience,” Rodriguez contends.
Another issue coming into play in 2015 is the notion of using technology to understand the customer better. “Operators are realizing [technology interactions] can be used to capture data on what customers are ordering and at what time of day,” Rodriguez says.
Information gathered can potentially be used to target promotions, offer specific discounts and deals or deliver personalized messages to customers. “With technology, you can capture a lot more data than you can with a punch card where you get your 10th cup of coffee for free,” she notes.
Starbucks is a front-runner in integrating loyalty programs with mobile devices. In Canada, it launched its first mobile app in 2010, enabling consumers to manage their Starbucks Cards on their smartphone.
New York Fries recently partnered with Toronto-based Virtual Next, a digital payment and loyalty provider, to launch its first mobile loyalty and payment program called Fry Society. NYF customers can scan a barcode on their smartphones to earn and redeem rewards and coupons as well as pay for orders. “We are a bit later to the party than some with this program, but by waiting we were able to skip the inconvenience and cost of the plastic-card part of the process and go straight to a mobile solution,” Price says.
A&W has been tapping into customers’ mindsets in a different way, finding success with a new mobile offering that provides instant feedback on guest satisfaction and experience, reports Nancy Wuttunee, senior director, Operating Excellence for A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. in Vancouver. The cloud-based system, developed by Kanata, Ont.-based Benbria, features an iPad terminal located in stores that communicates with a scoreboard in the back of the house to show feedback results on the fly. Customers are asked three simple questions about the food, service and cleanliness of the operation. (Consumers can also use their mobile phone to provide feedback.) “We’re focusing
on connecting to the guest and getting instant feedback we can use to measure the quality of their experience,” Wuttunee says.
Big-name U.S.-based operators such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Panera Bread are introducing ordering kiosks. “Operators want options when it comes to connecting with customers through technology beyond mobile phones and websites. And customers really like them, because they improve efficiency,” Rodriguez says.
Kiosks help speed service and allow customers to customize their orders. “It’s a practice that was started with pizza chains, who have become the masters of online ordering and customization,” Rodriguez says.
An electronic interface that customers can control — whether at a kiosk or a tabletop tablet — can offer ample opportunities to upsell. “Programming systems to make suggestions is very subtle but effective in increasing average check sizes, because it’s more visually appealing, and consumers feel they’re more in control,” Rodriguez says.
For Donna Dooher, chef, restaurateur and interim CEO and president of Restaurants Canada in Toronto, touchpad technology is set to explode. “Taking orders with a tablet saves the work of having to transcribe orders onto paper and walk to the POS to send the order to the kitchen. You can eliminate an entire step. That’s big in terms of saving time and eliminating human error — and, in our industry, it’s all about time and money,” she says.
Touchscreen menus have become much more than a novelty item at major airports; now they’re everywhere. At Dooher’s Mildred’s Temple Kitchen in Toronto, the restaurateur has taken the trend one step further, installing touchpad devices in the kitchen so staff can pull up recipes and generate prep sheets for specific stations.
An increasing number of restaurant operators are getting on the Internet reservation bandwagon. “As the millennials become a large part of our customer mix, we’re seeing a lot of innovation in using the Internet to book tables and engage the customers. Creating guest profiles such as knowing their favourite food and wine, what they last ordered or special occasions helps drive the guest experience with added value, rewards or special offers,” Dooher notes. “People don’t phone anymore or plan as far in advance. There’s so much choice; they’re calling the shots, so you need to offer technology that allows them to make immediate decisions.”
Whether the technology investment is a tabletop tablet, a mobile app or an online ordering or reservation system, it takes a lot of legwork to make technology work seamlessly, says Domenic Primucci, president of Pizza Nova in Toronto. When his company launched a mobile app for consumers, he says there was more to the process than meets the eye. “We’re still taking baby steps, because this type of thing can take a long time to develop,” he says, explaining that it requires a considerable amount of back-end integration. “That’s one of the biggest challenges. Everything has to work as one system, so that if we change something in one area, that change has to happen across our operating systems.”
The customer experience always has to be the number-1 consideration. “We know we have to change and adapt to the times as we move forward, because customers want ease of use and a great experience,” Primucci says.
A&W’s Wuttunee agrees. “We are paying more attention to understanding today’s consumer. We want to make sure [the technology] we choose fits with their needs. You have to move thoughtfully through the process,” she says.