There will come a time when “waiters” are all made by Apple.
But until the iWaiter rolls out (we want royalties for that), there are still a ton of technological advances that restaurants around the world are using to bring in, retain, and satisfy new business. And not just by giving people cool new ways to order.
From alerting customers to special deals when they walk by your restaurant to scheduling employees to having the tableside equivalent of a selfie-stick, here are some ways you can leverage technology to build your restaurant business.
Build Loyalty Using Technology
According to a study by Technomic, 40% of customers – and over half of millennial customers – consider a loyalty rewards program important for all restaurants.
So how do you leverage this?
If you’re a quick-service or fast-casual concept, this is painfully easy as you can link a rewards program to any online ordering platform you may have. For a traditional restaurant, it’s also relatively simple: build the feature into your mobile platform so guests can log in visits, time spent in the restaurant and what they ordered. If you have tablets or other digital means of taking orders, you can have the customer log in when he or she sits down (or makes a reservation) and their purchases will be logged.
You can then use this info to send targeted specials to customers.
Bring in More Business Using Technology
Online and mobile ordering capabilities have become almost standard practice for quick service and fast causal restaurants. And while your more-upscale concept might not want people ordering before they sit down, there are still plenty of ways to leverage technology.
Online reservations systems are pretty common now, but if you don’t take reservations in-store apps are available that let diners to put their name on a digital waitlist rather than using pen and paper. It allows them to see where they are on the list, so they’re not bothering your hostess every five minutes asking, “Is my table ready yet?”
It can also keep your waiting area clear, so customers can roam without cumbersome pagers. These also keep crowds down in your waiting area, so people don’t just walk in, say ‘Looks like a long wait,” and walk straight out.
Implement Beacon Technology
Building on your customer loyalty program, this fairly new technology posts small beacons around your restaurant that can alert nearby customers to special deals, or any other kind of information.
Once customers opt-in, you can target them with special offers when they are nearby. So if a regular customer is strolling by and trying to figure out where to have lunch, he might get a push notification alerting him that his favorite dish is on special. That gentle push might be just enough to get him to eat at your restaurant instead of another.
These notifications can also alert customers to things like wait times, drink specials, or any other promotion. Marriott Hotels have been using this technology for on-property bars and restaurants, encouraging guests to eat and drink without leaving the hotel.
The technology runs on both Bluetooth and GPS, and can also alert your kitchen if a customer is nearby so orders can be made closer to when the guest arrives.
Bring Technology to the Table
Kiosk ordering has been commonplace at quick service restaurants in Europe for years, but is slowly catching on in the US. These kiosks utilize touchscreens and allow guests to place customized orders, improve speed of service, eliminating any server error and giving everyone a greater sense of control.
This ordering technology could be optional. That way, your tech-savvy customers can enjoy the benefits while more old-school diners can still ask for entrée and drink recommendations from their servers before placing their order in the traditional manner.
For sit-down restaurants, tablet ordering not only speeds up the order-relay process it also can seamlessly tie in to guest loyalty programs. Servers can greet customers by name and see their order histories, making people feel like known “regulars” immediately and streamlining their order. Either that, or make them think they’ve got a psychic waiter.
And while making people feel valued is all warm and fuzzy, letting them order themselves can drive the bottom line even more. If you’re comfortable mechanizing your ordering process – and allow guests to place their own orders via on-table tablets – studies show they will order more. Ziosk, one maker of these tablets, reported that appetizer sales increased 20% and dessert sales 30% when people could order them at the touch of a button. Drink sales, presumably, would see the same effect.
Similarly, if you’re ok with having people photograph their entire meals, technology can allow guests to post to social media without even having to take out their phones. Tablets or touchscreens equipped with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat apps will encourage customers to check-in, share their food, and give you tons of free advertising.
And of course, paying the check yourself saves time, and also encourages spending. Having portable POS systems at the table that allow people to split checks, leave tips, and pay for meals without having to call over a server might limit human interaction, but make guests feel much more in control of the experience while speeding up the service.
Leverage Technology in the Kitchen
Those tablet systems can (and should) be linked to ticket-free Kitchen Display Screens (or KDS) that will track an order from the minute it’s placed through completion. Not that you necessarily want guests knowing exactly what’s going on with their food in real time, but it allows you to track it. KDS also gives your kitchen staff an easier, less-overwhelming system than the old paper tickets. Also, no tickets will ever get lost.
Improve Technology in the Back Office
Sure, technology is great for improving your customers’ experience. But it might make the life of your management team a lot better too.
One main benefit of technology is to improve employee scheduling. Apps like HotSchedules allow staff to not only make schedule requests and view their shifts, but make shift changes and alter their availability. It gives your staff a stronger feeling of control over their schedules, and gives managers a quicker way to see how staffed a shift is. Managers can also make changes instantly rather than having to consult a big, confusing bulletin board.
Applications also exist to manage inventory much more effectively. POS systems track how many items you sell, but can they tell you how many ingredients you need at any given time? Digitally tracking inventory can allow you to order food that sells better without having to do complicated calculations, and eliminates much of the human error associated with food waste.
Yes, technology can be intimidating. But whether you adopt these shifts now or later, you’ll need to do implement technology in your restaurant eventually to grow and stay competitive. Making these changes takes time for employee training, and money for software/hardware. And while we can’t give you three more hours in the day, BFS Capital can help get your restaurant the funds you need to upgrade your restaurant’s technology.