Pulling together technology adventurers to explore what’s ahead for restaurants was sure to foster speculation about where the hunt for breakthroughs will veer next. Delivering on that expectation was not one of the surprises from FSTEC. The possibilities aired during the tech conference were a different story. The often-posed question of what’s next for restaurants yielded such predictable answers as robotics, artificial intelligence and dealing with driverless cars. But the list extended to areas that were considerably less obvious. Here are some of them.
Using a KDS to gauge performance
Several emerging chains participating in the conference explained how they’re using a kitchen display system as a labor diagnostic tool. In addition to relaying an order from the front-of-house to the kitchen, the devices typically break down the prep process into specific functions. Management can see, for instance, when a plate was held in the back because the fries or other sides were fired late. The information is much more granular than a simple measure of the time that’s taken to produce orders, explained Austin Brinson, VP of analytics for the B.good fast-casual chain. Parsing the production process can reveal who on the line may not be able to keep up, or how minutes can be shaved by switching the locations of two cooks.
Guaranteeing a shift ends
Union Square Hospitality Group is experimenting with smart watches for staffers at its reopened namesake restaurant, Union Square Cafe in New York City. The breakthrough is the instant yet discreet management communication that’s possible with the devices, suggested Maureen Cushing, VP of technology and processes for the multiconcept group. “We want to give real-time alerts to our team,” she noted, though she didn’t specifically cite the watches as the means. USHG has said the watches could be used to alert servers to a social-media pan of the service or food before the offended guest even leaves the table. The instant communication could also helps the restaurant keep labor costs in check. Union Square’s servers, who are paid a wage instead of collecting tips, could be pinged “to let them now they’re close to overtime,” Cushing said.
Overcoming the mall meltdown
About a third of the 1,200 enclosed malls in the United States are dead or dying, revealed keynote speaker and PayPal CEO Dan Schulman. The impact on restaurants that depend on mall traffic has been an acute worry of investors. Squarely in that group is Cinnabon, the bakery chain run by Focus Brands. Now the brand is fighting back with a tech-based initiative called B2P, or Buns to People, revealed Randy White, VP of retail information for Focus. He didn’t reveal details, other than noting the active ingredient in the effort will be technology. And he suggested the mechanism will likely not be an app, since Cinnabon sells an indulgence that even hardcore fans savor infrequently.
Using more of a technology’s capabilities
The bells and whistles of a new technology can be alluring, but those extras typically don’t get much play, according to multiconcept owner Gala Capital Partners, whose tech savvy landed Managing Partner Anand Gala on a panel. “I’ve never seen any company use a technology to its fullest extent,” Gala said. “If we use 45%, that’s a huge win.” The company typically tries to broaden the features it uses, if for no other reason than accurately calculating the return on investment. “If we can build 50% utilization, we can base our ROI on that,” Gala said.
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.