Serving up technology

So your website is running smoothly and you’ve got online ordering down to a science. Where do you go next tech-wise—both inside your operation and outside—to woo consumers and stay competitive? Here are some of the technologies that diners say will get them in the door.

Kiosks let busy diners keep on going. Touch-screen meal ordering is a hit with both customers and management at the Wow Bao fast-casual Asian chain in Chicago. Each Wow Bao unit has two touch-screen ordering kiosks, which have been in place for three years. Geoff Alexander, executive vice president of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Wow Bao’s managing partner, points to the operational efficiencies in touch screens: “Errors go down quite a bit because you’re not mishearing someone. And the machines never ask for a day off or a raise.” He claims customers enjoy touch-screen systems because “pictures are a language that everybody speaks,” he says, calling the kiosks “a great way to sell.” To facilitate the sale, after the customer swipes his credit card, Wow Bao’s proprietary system pulls up his last four orders and suggests additional menu items. With touch screens, Alexander adds, “[Guests] can stay on [their] phone calls or iPods without having to be interrupted”—important to today’s multi-tasking diners. No wonder the venerable White Castle chain just announced it’s trying kiosks.

Mobile payments offer security.  Taking waitstaff out of the payment equation is an idea that’s just starting to make inroads in the industry, and it appeals to customers concerned with identity theft or credit card fraud. Rich Hope, chief marketing officer of the Manasquan, N.J.-based Jersey Mike’s Subs chain, believes smartphone payment systems and swipe terminals will proliferate within the next year or two due to “issues with cashiers handling credit cards and having people not give their cards to anyone.” Alexander agrees: “[Mobile payment] will absolutely come. It’ll be part of our culture.” But the problem now, he says, is that mobile payments are on different platforms. “It’ll take a Google or a Visa or some large company to make the investment and say, this is the platform.” Expect the whole concept of electronic payments to get a big boost this year as Applebee’s brings 100,000 tablets to its 1,800 units. The Intel-powered tablets at every table will allow customers to order, pay and even play games.  Chili's plans to roll out similar tablets at its 1,266 stores. 

Text offers—pros and cons. When you think about the fact that 78 percent of millennials own a smartphone, according to Chicago-based research firm Datassential, what better way to entice them than to deliver deals right to the palms of their hands. Still, operators need to proceed with caution and be aware of regulations or privacy issues. Hope cites new text messaging regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October 2013 that strengthen rules on unsolicited “commercial messages” as a potential roadblock. The regulations require a “signature” on file, either on hard copy or through digital consent, for opting in. But it may be worth the effort. A study, released by the National Restaurant Association last October, found that 50 percent of consumers would use a reward or deal with a smartphone, if offered.

Top Tech Picks

A 2013 survey released by the National Restaurant Association last October examined the restaurant technology options consumers want to use most often.

  • 67 percent would look up a restaurant location on a smartphone or tablet
  • 46 percent would try touch-screen ordering
  • 24 percent would pay their check with a smartphone


More from our partners