9 downloads of tech smarts from FSTEC

fstec app mobile

As technology has diversified and expanded to touch every function of a restaurant company, so, too, have the questions, problems and opportunities. Restaurateurs weren’t bashful during FSTEC, the industry’s major tech conference, about admitting their knowledge gaps and asking for help in addressing the new realities.

Here are a few of the insights that were served up by speakers and fellow attendees at the Washington, D.C., event.

Keeping the public polite on social-media

Restaurateurs complain about the lack of control over what consumers can post on social media about the brand or fellow customers, but they’re not helpless, as Chick-fil-A has learned. Michael McCathren, manager of interactive digital marketing for the high-flying quick-service chain, said that adding a House Rules tab to the brand’s Facebook page has been a “game changer.” The rules state that the page was created for fans to exchange information about promotions, restaurants, meals and experiences. They also list what types of posts Chick-fil-A may elect to delete, such as any that “include profanity, hate speech or attack another member of our community."

Invest in data, not just technology…

One of the key reasons 11-unit Cava Grill moved into mobile payments was the rich data that innovation could deliver, said CEO Brett Schulman. But harvesting the big insights isn’t as easy as looking at an online dashboard.  To make sure Cava can "make that data actionable," Schulman said, the company hired a data scientist to help it interpret the information.

…But remember the end goal

There’s a danger in thinking the data, and the quantified insights, are what it’s all about, warned former Starbucks president Howard Behar. “We think we need data to make a decision, and we don’t. We need info, but the best information comes from one-on-one conversations,” he said. Too many spreadsheets, he said, make him fear losing the human touch.

Mobile pay is roaring past the speed bumps

“One of the big issues early on was the cashiers," said Todd Kaufman, senior director of IT for SSP America, an airport concessionaire. Even though they were trained to handle electronic-wallet transactions, they could go for a month before they saw a customer opt for that payment method. Getting customers to use it was also a big challenge.

There’s no safe harbor for payment

EMV is not a panacea, nor is PCI compliance, said Avivah Litan, VP of Gartner Research. Criminals find ways to beat the processes around the protocol. And, if what happened in Canada when it implemented EMV technology is an indicator, more fraud will move online. Card-not-present fraud goes up when it becomes harder to hack EMV- and PCI complaint systems, said Litan.  So operators need to remain vigilant, even when following the rules.

EMV won’t happen overnight

While the burden in credit-card fraud liability switches Oct. 1 to restaurateurs and other merchants, the majority of operators aren’t ready to accept chip-enabled cards. In fact, says Litan, there are still a lot of issues on the back end of EMV integration. And those requesting EMV certification can expect a wait; the certifications process is backed up by nine to 12 months, according to Gartner. The time it takes also doesn’t take into account the huge investment operators need to make in Pin Entry Devices (PEDs), says Red Lobster’s Lou Grande, along with investment in WiFi and bandwidth expansion.

Perception is a big part of the equation

Within the walls of FSTEC, restaurateurs acknowledged that there’s only so much they can do to safeguard credit card transactions, and they aren’t even the watchdogs on customer information, a function typically handled by third parties. But perception is an important reality, speakers noted. "The rest of it is image to the consumer," said SSP America’s Kaufman. "Do they feel safe using the technology?"

Apps as ‘shopertainment’

“Personalization and localization; those are where the magic of mobile comes to life,” said Reggie Menon, director of digital experience and innovation for Buffalo Wild Wings. “There are few things more personal than a cell phone, so we need to be able to make inroads [to] embed ourselves in the consumers’ lives.” For BWW, that means a mobile experience that knows the guest, remembers the guest, tailors content to the guest and even discovers the guest. People see through self-serving marketing ploys, he said.

Can’t we all speak the same language?

Searching for integration options—be it scheduling, social or something else—can be a frustrating experience because the IT director is shackled by contracts and realities peculiar to one system or another.  There’s no standardization of the translation function, making each integration a unique give-and-take.

What the industry needs is a United Nations of all things data, said Brian Pearson, CIO of the Stacked design-your-own-burger chain. “[We need] to get more open analytical data without being handcuffed by companies or to jump through hoops to get it quickly,” he said. Additionally, pointed out Joe Tenczar, CIO and VP of information and technology of Sonny’s BBQ, contracts need to be flexible to allow for innovation. “You never know when the next [big technology] will come around. We have to be able to snap.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Trend or fad? These restaurant currents could go either way

Reality Check: A number of ripples were evident in the business during the first half of the year. The question is, do they have staying power?


Starbucks' value offer is a bad idea

The Bottom Line: It’s not entirely clear that price is the reason Starbucks is losing traffic. If it isn’t, the company’s new value offer could backfire.


Struggling I Heart Mac and Cheese franchisees push back against their franchisor

Operators say most of them aren't making money and want a break on their royalties. But they also complain about receiving expired cheese from closed stores. "Don't send us moldy product."


More from our partners