The upcoming year might not look quite like the space age the Jetsons lived in, but the tech-forward society is moving closer and closer to it.
1. Voice technology as back-of-house savior
Voice-recognition technology might just be key to solving the labor crisis. Early adopters, such as Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, have already found ways to ease some pressure on managers, allowing them to check things like the temperature in the refrigerator simply by asking aloud. Technology is likely to roll out that allows operators—specifically in-store managers—to do a lot more simply by saying what they need. When they get a push notification on their phone that the veggie supply is low (based on a Wi-Fi-enabled scale in the walk-in, obviously), they can simply say, “Order more romaine lettuce,” and the ingredient will be added to the requisition, sent to the vendor and paid for. And when that lettuce shows up? No more paper or tablet spreadsheet to check in supplies; operators will simply say what they are accepting.
2. Hike in internet costs
While the details remain to be seen, the repeal of net neutrality could mean a steeper cost on the P&L statement. The amount of bandwidth needed to download training materials, process payments and more isn’t going down. And if internet providers will be charging more for heavy usage, operators might just see a pricier commercial rate in their future.
3. App elimination
Unless you’re Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, which see regulars coming in every weekday morning for their caffeine fix, it’s hard to convince consumers to give precious app storage space to your brand. Still, right now, operators are devoting a lot of dollars to developing and maintaining branded apps. So instead, in the coming year, more chains will turn to progressive web apps—mobile-friendly websites with loyalty, ordering and payment screens that also can send push notifications. Consumers can still complete a transaction via mobile, since it’s where so many restaurant consumers are, but they are not locked into an app.
Other brands, still wanting to partake in the app space, are likely to partner with third-party service apps such as Nowait and other convenience-driven apps that compile a lot of brands in one space.
4. Who needs a driver?
Driverless cars: They’re coming. And sooner than many people think. In fact, Uber contracted with Volvo to buy a fleet of 24,000 self-driving SUVs between 2019 and 2021. That will potentially impact the logistics of the delivery experience: No need to find and pay a driver, but operators will need a runner to put food in the car and the consumer will have to retrieve it from the car versus door-to-door service. And the drive-thru experience will shift, too. If a driver is superfluous, will the worker inside the window be able to reach the seat (or the passenger sitting elsewhere in the car), in order to hand food over?
5. Data-hoarding to data-wrangling
For the last few years, operators have focused on collecting as much data as possible. Their data-hoarding ways, though, haven’t always translated to actionable results, especially at the store level. Managers are often hired because of their ability to manage a staff, relate to customers and run a restaurant—not because they can read and interpret lines of data. In the coming year, managers will be presented with data that’s already interpreted; all they will have to do is act on what the numbers say. Ideally, this will all be done via computer (how great would it be if there was a platform that automated the data interpretation?), but that may still be two or three years away.
6. Making facial recognition worth it
At this point, the use of facial-recognition technology isn’t fully fleshed out. CaliBurger recently added facial recognition to its self-ordering kiosks for loyalty and ordering, for example, but it can’t be used for payment just yet. That means patrons still need to whip out their wallets and swipe a card. Soon enough, though, that experience will become even more frictionless, making the technology more of a convenience than its current “wow factor” usage.
7. Tech companies selling food
Domino’s gets a lot of press for referring to itself as a tech company that happens to sell pizza. As more restaurants up their technology game and partner with outside companies, they’ll employ more tech-savvy staff, adding positions at the C and VP levels to innovate and enhance their operations. Think beyond CIOs and VP of ITs; expect to see more specialized positions related specifically to tech.