It’s not easy to stand out and make a profit as a restaurant. Not only do you have to deal with stiff competition from frighteningly similar competitors serving the same niches, you’re also dealing with razor-thin profit margins and difficulty with hiring, scheduling, and employee turnover.
However, when you shift your focus to the customer experience – rather than just the quality or cost of your food – you enter another realm of competition entirely. Great businesses sell experiences, not just products, so customers walk away with memories and a good reason to tell their friends about them. The right combination is an experience that is both positive and unique, so how are restaurants doing it? Well, they’re using the latest technology.
New Technology Shaping Customer Experience
So what technologies are restaurants going to use in 2017 and beyond to deliver better customer experiences?
- Administrative and team planning. Your customers’ experiences can only be as good as the staff delivering them – that’s why administrative and team planning software is so important to keeping a restaurant in good working order. When a restaurant schedules its hourly workers effectively, it can ensure the necessary coverage at all times while also helping its employees remain satisfied (and more likely to stay on).
- POS tech. POS, or point-of-sale, technology makes ordering and cashing out more convenient for customers. Some restaurants have already upgraded to systems that allow users to place their order using tablets or similar mobile devices, and others use tablet-like devices as modern cash registers to make transactions faster and more convenient. The future may involve embedding these technologies directly into tables or syncing with users’ own mobile devices.
- Food ordering and delivery apps. These are going through a growth period. More restaurants are coming up with their own ordering apps, or signing up for aggregated ordering app services. Ordering in advance saves both restaurants and customers time in the long run and makes the process more transparent, which most customers appreciate.
- Mass messaging. Some restaurants are starting to use more mass messaging technologies to interact with both customers and staff. For example, they may send out a mass text message to let subscribing customers know about their latest promotion or a limited-time menu item. Restaurants may also use mass messaging to help coordinate their teams, such as finding someone to fill in a shift at the last minute so no customer experiences are disrupted.
- Chatbots. Chatbots are artificial intelligence programs designed to interact with human beings through conversation, mimicking natural human speech patterns and gathering information to get the job done. Some estimates claim that eventually, as much as 85 percent of restaurant ordering and interactions will be done through chatbots – and we may start to see some early adoption in the next few years. It would take some serious time and money for a restaurant to create its own program, but utilizing a framework that already exists could be an affordable alternative.
- Partnerships with existing tech apps. In an interesting twist, restaurants are partnering up with existing tech apps to make life easier for their customers. Rather than building their own apps, they’ll piggyback off a service that already exists – like Uber’s restaurant food delivery app (a separate service called Uber Eats). Apps for reviews, reservations, and deliveries are common, but look for more diverse types of partnerships to emerge in 2017 and beyond.
The Cost Dilemma
Restaurateurs may be looking at all of these advanced technologies and nodding their heads, understanding how they could make customers happier and the business more successful. The problem is, it costs money to develop, implement and maintain these technological systems, and with margins already stretched thin, it could make budgeting effectively a near impossibility.
There are a handful of approaches to this. First, restaurateurs can realize they don’t need every new technology to keep up with their competitors. Even one or two new additions can breathe new life into an organization. They may pick areas of development most likely to impact their target demographics when deciding which path forward to take. Beyond that, they can remember that the whole goal here is to give customers unique, positive, memorable experiences – and there are ways to do that without any technology at all.