Which technologies will be commonplace in restaurants five or ten years from now? Chris Sheedy gazes into his wifi-connected, virtual reality-enabled crystal ball app and tells us what he sees.
Having ordered her takeaway meal on a smartphone app, a customer walks in to a buzzing restaurant during a busy lunchtime service, is immediately handed her order and walks out without any money changing hands.
In the kitchen the staff work quickly but quietly, preparing ingredients and meals in the order in which they are listed on screens in front of them. Once each plate is complete, robots glide in to remove the meals to the tables.
At the tables are more screens from which the customers have made their orders and completed payment. Their first orders were for drinks, and those drinks are delivered from the bar even as the diners are still deciding on entrees and mains.
One table contains a high-value customer, a regular who prefers a specific table and often enjoys a bottle of high-end sparkling wine. All staff are aware of his importance and offer particularly attentive service.
A couple sitting by the window remembers a wonderful bottle of wine they enjoyed on their last visit, 12 months ago. If only they could remember the name. A staff member consults his smartphone app, brings up their last order and tells them, on the spot, the wine’s exact name and vintage.
The restaurant’s suppliers receive an automated email order at the end of each day indicating the exact amount of product required for the next day. Nobody at the restaurant has had to lift a finger to make those orders—the system has taken care of the heavy lifting.
It all sounds terribly futuristic, but of course it is all happening right now. Few businesses have put all of this technology together, but over the next decade those that are looking for the edge in service, in efficiency and in cost savings will be toting some truly terrific technology.
Here are the most likely inclusions.
Advance-purchase smartphone apps
Put the customer first, as every great business does, and you will soon realise how important it is to make ordering as simple as possible. Queueing to make and pay for an order, then waiting for the order to be fulfilled, will become a thing of the past in restaurants that fold mobile apps into their POS system.
Impressive offerings in terms of apps are already available from such providers as Menulog and Hey You. Major suppliers of POS systems, such as H&L and Revel Systems, allow specific apps to integrate directly with their systems for a smooth order management experience at the restaurant end.
Integrated digital restaurant management systems
Over the next five to ten years, restaurants that still use paper to record orders and bookings etc will likely be few and far between. At the very top end it is possible that the traditional and personal touch will still be sought, so pen and paper may be what diners expect from the wait staff. But most other restaurant and catering businesses will be digital, from online booking to ordering, payments, roster management, stock control and more.
Efficient digital systems free staff up to do other jobs within the business, can be used to automatically stagger booking times, recommend other availabilities when requested times are booked out, can direct group bookings to a staff member for further discussion and can also collect data on customers.
The fact that an entire business can now be run in real-time from the screen of a tablet also allows the owner an enormous level of control over staffing levels, inventory management and even marketing campaigns timed to help fill traditionally quiet periods.
Also known as ‘guest-facing technology’, tabletop POS is proving to be very popular with users who are all comfortable with the use of tablet computers. The real bonus is that such technology offers so much more than an ordering system. It can be used for payment, can serve advertising, can offer rich and deep images of meals and can even be used as a gaming system
It means queues can be avoided, that there’s no more searching for wait staff when a customer feels like ordering another drink, that credit card fraud is reduced and turnover of tables is sped up, allowing more sittings during a specific time period.
Big data will mean big profit
All of the data that can be collected by POS, online and other digital systems provide a treasure trove of information. The type of business intelligence once reserved for cashed-up corporates will be openly available to even the smallest restaurant operators.
Knowing your customers better, including their behaviours, their tastes in food and drink and their individual value to your business, is one benefit. But that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power of big data.
“Over the next five to ten years, restaurants that still use paper to record orders and bookings will likely be few and far between.”
It can reveal trends and patterns, flag problems before they occur, track refund levels and complaints, help to target your marketing campaigns using a powerful customer database, drive repeat business and identify typical quiet times, helping to manage staff levels or to better target promotions.
And when it comes time to sell the business, big data offers potential buyers a powerful view into the business, its past growth, its customer behaviour and therefore its opportunities. Properly managed, this will likely result in a premium sale price.
This sounds as if it is truly the stuff of science fiction, but even 15 years ago in London revellers were being served cocktails mixed by a robot.
Today there are several restaurants in China where customers are served by robots. A new seafood restaurant in Singapore, Rong Heng Seafood Restaurant, is saving a third on manpower needs by doing the same.
Several models of battery-powered robots, all of which are happy to work overtime, are produced in China and each, in the case of the Singapore restaurant, costs just over A$13,600. At that price, it’s only a matter of time before Australian restaurants begin employing droid staff!