Technology very much in hand at NRA show

The restaurant industry’s shift to mobile technology was reflected on the show floor of this year’s NRA conference, with exhibitors showcasing the latest apps for everything from customer loyalty programs to systems for online ordering, labor scheduling, payments, and guest entertainment.  

For Dennis Sirrine, chef-owner of Rancho de Tia Rosa in Mesa, Arizona, the technology that captured his attention was a gaming app for iPads. Rancho de Tia Rosa has a family section, and the thought of keeping kids occupied while the adults lingered over cocktails was particularly intriguing to the independent operator.

Chief among the technology solutions were customer engagement programs, with more than four dozen demonstrated on the show floor. Some, like Front Flip, are delivering instant gratification to the customer: with the program, customers scan a QR Code and then “scratch” the code on their phone to see what they’ve won. Providers like AppSuite are wrapping an individual user’s preferences into the a loyalty program.  Emails or alerts on wine specials, for example, can be pushed to wine enthusiasts.

Expect to hear more about “geofencing,” which allows the operator to push out coupons or in-store offers when the consumer is nearby, or within your geographic fence.

Given the number of technology solutions that were on display, it was easy to forget that only 25 percent of restaurant operations have an online presence. At the show, deals for creating an online presence were flying—and judging by the crowds at the booth—attendees were biting. MoPro, which announced a partnership with the NRA at the start of the show, demonstrated how a website should tell a restaurant’s story., exhibiting at the restaurant show for the first time, announced a partnership with Locu, the online menu management specialist.

Partnerships were all the rage at the show, with GrubHub and Seamless, the leaders in online ordering, announcing their merger. They are looking to expand further into the consumers’ online life, not only through order taking but via reviews from those who have placed orders through the sites.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Robert Irvine, who is partnering with Comcast—known primarily for its Internet and TV services—is becoming a technology evangelist. Speaking to an overflowing crowd at the Comcast booth, Irvine noted that the days of servers putting pen to paper for order taking are numbered. He asserted that technology sits at the center of front- and back-of-the-house operations, from inventory control to order taking to mobile payments to driving social media. Irvine tweets the weekly specials for his restaurants eat!, and Nosh, bringing in 900 covers on a weekday.

With all the technology comes the need for increased bandwidth, Comcast’s initial interest in the hospitality sector.

Mobile payment provider LevelUp announced its partnership with POS provider NCR; it already has a similar partnership in place with Micros.

Restaurant operators expressed interest in electronic payment systems like Google Wallet or PayPal.

Groupon, known primarily for its daily discount deals, is expanding into that capability through Breadcrumb POS, a free iPad app that was developed to serve the functions of a cash register. Tabs can be settled and payments made via credit card. The system also delivers data on customer sales. An earlier system, designed for the restaurant sector, will now be called Breadcrumb Pro; in addition to payment it also features check and table management and time clock functionality.

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