Several new technologies with “shift potential” are hitting the restaurant industry right now, according to Erik Thoresen, principal at Technomic. Most are in the early stages but have the potential to grow, he told nearly 900 of the industry’s tech experts at the FSTEC conference in Dallas. And these new technologies are poised to rock three different areas of the business: the customer experience; workflow and workforce; and front-of-house, back-of-house and beyond the four walls operations. Here’s a look at five innovations that could rock the restaurant industry’s modus operandi.
1. Automation that elevates
Automation and the emergence of bots will change the way consumers engage with restaurants, says Thoresen. While some already are using bots for ordering, such as Taco Bell’s Tacobot, we will see more artificial intelligence used to power other chat applications, he predicts. Further, he says, there are opportunities to combine equipment with automation, allowing customers to interact solely with technology for even the most custom experience. For example, a customer may order tea via a kiosk, then a machine gets that message and custom-brews the beverage, without any human interaction.
2. Predictive data
Certain suppliers are developing systems that compile end-to-end data, in order to be in the predictive space, says Thoresen. The unified solutions look at everything from mobile marketing and waitlist information to POS and payment data in order to have a stronger way to understand operations through analytics—helping restaurateurs predict and spend smarter.
3. Agile delivery
Third parties have been a major topic of conversation for restaurant operators—from whether or not to participate, to best practices for working with partners. A specific one Thoresen brought up for altering consumers’ expectations for the time frame and cost of delivery, even outside of the food world: Amazon. Many consumers have grown accustomed to the convenience of Amazon Prime, and now the Prime Now model is bringing that expectation (with even faster delivery) to food. While it’s only available in select markets, it plans to expand.
4. Event-structured ticketing
The number of restaurants letting customers buy their seats ahead of time is growing. Instead of the traditional reservation, consumers can pay to reserve their seat, with the cost going toward the price of their meal. While Thoresen admitted he was initially skeptical of the ticketing system for restaurants, an operator told him that he is able to save 25% on his produce costs, because he can more accurately predict traffic.
5. Subscription model
Meal kits such as Blue Apron still are a relatively small business around $1.5 billion dollars this year, Thoresen says. But they are growing at an annual rate of 65%, and Technomic predicts that the U.S. will be the biggest market for meal kits in five years. They are changing the way consumers think about how they source food, he says, impacting not only grocery but dine-in and takeout business for restaurants as well. In fact, among consumers who said they would consider signing up for a meal kit plan in the near future, 47% say they would cut back on takeout and delivery, and 37% say they would reduce their dine-in spend.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.