Experts in the restaurant technology field descended on Orlando, Fla., this week to talk trends, vendors, pain points and more. They discussed data, security, delivery, partnerships and infrastructure, but some more nuanced takeaways came out of the operator discussions at this year’s FSTEC conference, held by Restaurant Business parent company Winsight. Here’s a look at some of those insights.
1. Hospitality standards are slipping
“The bar for hospitality is so low that when you smile and act genuinely interested in [the guest’s] day, they notice,” said John Lowe, CEO of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. The dessert concept uses kiosks and other technology, but he says the priority is to teach staffers eye contact and smiling.
2. It doesn’t all have to face the guest…or does it?
Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group buries its tech behind the scenes. “From a guest perspective, we don’t really like tech. But for the associate, we try to increase efficiencies as much as possible,” said Sage’s Senior Manager of Property Technology Rik Reinhardt. However, Jon Hartis, CTO of Reach Restaurant Group, is in favor of consumer-facing tech, and believes it not only should make the experience more seamless, but also that it “should be sexy” to win over guests.
It’s easier to get attention for customer-facing tech, said Jeff Kent of Flynn Restaurant Group, noting that the more practical uses may actually be for BOH. Panera Bread—one of the concepts Flynn Restaurant Group franchises—uses chatbots for maintenance on things like kiosks, for example.
3. Top candidates remain key
Tech teams are growing, and finding the right people for a team in today’s tight labor market can be tough. “The best decisions I’ve made are bringing the right people on the team,” said Reinhardt. “I can teach tech, but it’s the operational knowledge and those who can talk restaurants that has been invaluable.”
5. Consumer listening is critical
“Pizza Hut regularly asks our customers how we can improve service—and we listen to them,” said Tara Townsley, director of information technology for Pizza Hut. “When asking ourselves and consumers why they chose someone other than Pizza Hut, the biggest takeaway was that [getting Pizza Hut] was not easy … [so] we doubled down on tech. In the last 18 months, we’ve decreased time to door by an average of 12 minutes. Find out when to leverage tech and when to leverage people.”
6. Incorporate on-the-job training
“With handhelds, we’re able to put a lot of info on tablet,” Hartis said. That way, servers don’t all have to be beer or wine connoisseurs or experts on flavor profiles right away. There are descriptions and pictures on the tablet, so they can educate themselves and the guest right at the table.
7. Downtime is OK—with the right infrastructure
Reach Restaurant Group converted to a cloud-based POS, and members of the audience had questions about what happens when the internet goes down. “Often people don’t think about infrastructure and often have issues and point fingers at the POS and not the backbone of the restaurant,” said Hartis. “When we converted our stores, we overhauled our network … so we can still run devices and we minimize any downtime. Instead of closing or going cash only, we can run offline from transaction to payment.” In fact, he said, one of Reach’s restaurants in Dallas had an eight-hour outage and was still able to work seamlessly.