1. EMV is here
After all the anticipation and strife leading up to the shift in credit-card liability, the Oct. 1 deadline to implement chip-and-dip readers came and went. Now, technically, any fraud liability has changed … but it’s complicated: For any fraud committed on an EMV-enabled card, but run on a regular magnetic-swipe machine, the operator is responsible. But there’s still considerable confusion around the new protocols. The National Restaurant Association advised operators not to panic and make any rash purchasing decisions when it came to upgrading their credit-card equipment—and it seems like most listened.
2. Non-restaurant restaurants become competition
Who needs a dining room anymore? The tech minds behind concepts such as Sprig, Munchery, Maple and others are leveraging technology and consumers’ increasing interest in delivery to take business from traditional restaurants—and big investors are buying in. Instead of worrying about server compensation, dining rooms and other logistics, food (that is ordered via app) is prepared in a commissary kitchen and delivered.
3. Third-party delivery takeover
Third-party services such as PostMates and UberEATS have made huge inroads this year, inking deals with chains from Starbucks to Chipotle and Cinnabon. The upshot for operators: they can get in on the growing call for delivery without supplying the drivers. But it’s not all sunshine and puppies. Operators no longer control their food once it leaves the door. And one such service, DoorDash, is even being sued by In-N-Out for using the chain’s logo and delivering its food without permission.
4. Tech hits the c-suite
While some restaurant companies have had VP of IT positions for years, there’s been a boom of techies invited to the c-suite. Take Starbucks, for example. This marks the first time the fast-casual giant appointed a CIO and a CTO. Further, the man named president and COO in January also came from the tech world, previously holding roles at Microsoft and IBM.
5. Dominos takes ordering next-level
6. Distribution goes digital
No longer are operators relegated to traditional distributors to get their suppliers. Instead, they are buying online from places like eBay and Netgrocer to save. In fact, researcher Technomic found that operators are cutting purchasing costs by an average of 12 to 13 percent by buying online versus from their broadliners. While virtual services are most prominent among independents, it may catch on as more restaurants go this route.
7. Incubators are the new way to test tech
Several operators already have seen great success, both in throughput and sales, when tech is integrated into operations. Instead of just tossing it into an existing store and hoping for the best, those ready to up their tech game are setting up special test labs instead. Wendy’s, for example, opened an “innovation lab” in Ohio to foster tech ideas, while healthful fast-casual Freshii opened a new store in an entrepreneurial tech hub in Chicago to solicit ideas. Even those not totally tech-focused are bringing tech into new concept/model experiments, including Jamba Juice.
8. Beyond the basics with apps
No longer is it good enough just to have an app. To win coveted space on consumers’ phones, operators need to understand what consumers want—added convenience, ease of use and effective engagement tools. This year saw a number of chains rolling out new or upgraded apps, as more restaurateurs try to understand the data behind what’s working.