Bad Girl, Good Business

Bytes and Bites: How Technology is Transforming the Restaurant World (Part 1)

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A woman walks into a bar…

No. That’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s what I did a couple of days after returning from the National Restaurant Association Show.

The server brought me my check after my meal and then she handed me a small terminal so I could add my tip and insert my debit card. While I was doing that, she took another order. It was a simple and powerful example of how technology is changing just one aspect of the food and beverage experience. My dining experience was more pleasant because I didn’t have to wait…less paper was involved in the transaction, and the waitstaff could satisfy more customers in less time.

More than 1,000,000 restaurants exist in the U.S. alone and total sales are close to $800 billion. By 2027, more than 1.6 million new restaurant jobs will be created. The workforce in the restaurant industry is 10% of the entire U.S. workforce. Although “Do you want fries with that?” may seem like a simple query, the infrastructure behind supplying you with your crispy taters is actually quite complex. The mix of workers in the industry is destined to change, as more mundane tasks will be handled by machines, and humans will focus on the hospitality end of the business — as well as building the next round of technology innovations. Here are more compelling stats.

Machines, data-driven communications, digital media and  marketing, and even robots are having an impact throughout the restaurant and hospitality world. While some people sampled just food and booze, I cruised the buffet of product/service demos and spoke to CEOs, salespeople, PR folks, and other booth people about how their app, device, or system was revolutionizing the customer, owner, or chef experience. Here’s just a taste of what I learned.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be covering:

  • The App Landscape…from Yelp to Open Table to Social Systems…myriad technologies are being built to help consumers find out where to eat, who to eat with, when to eat, and how to avoid waiting time and service hassles — using their fingers and phones. Presumably, they can then concentrate on what they are putting into their stomachs and the friends and family around the table. Says Jim D’Arcangelo, marketing tech expert and contributor to our upcoming book Embrace the Machine(R), “Smart businesses will create technologies to further enhance the customer experience, as well as improve the bottom line. The right machine ‘recipe’ is one that satisfies both goals.”
  • What machines are behind the scenes? Although consumers may sometimes interact with these devices or apps (as in my example, above), these are point-of-sale (POS) systems, inventory systems, and other tech-enabled means of running a business more simply and cost-effectively and giving owners access to data and trends. Big and small companies are getting into the act. Tech giants like Microsoft, Oracle, and Samsung are all hoping to get a slice of the restaurant industry spending pie.
  • How does all that food make the journey from its origin to your mouth? And what about the equipment used to prepare it? The supply chain is being transformed by technology and Amazon is top chef. (But more on that in a future post.)
  • You’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things (or IoT). It refers to technologies that enable devices to do smart things — like “take orders” from humans and each other and to track and “remember” critical information. These things are now in the kitchen.
  • And what about the people? From bartenders to servers to the kitchen team, these are the hard workers behind the taste and service. Finding talented and committed food service professionals has always been tough, but now restaurant owners need to be responsive to the generations that were raised with technology (as a means of finding jobs and tracking time), as well as the unique perspectives of Generation Z and Millennials. State laws make hiring and managing individuals and teams more complicated than ever too.

All of these flavors of technology enable restaurant owners and managers — if they commit to Embracing the Machine(R) — to concentrate on what they truly love to do…make great food and make more money.

I hope you enjoy the trend “menu.” Be sure you have a standing reservation (subscribe to my blog or follow me on LinkedIn) if you want a hearty helping of what’s to come in the food tech world.

Bon Appetit!



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