Even before the advent of COVID-19, contactless restaurant technology was rapidly disrupting the traditional operating methods of the industry.
But the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the process, and many of the changes it has brought are probably now irreversible.
The good news is that contactless technologies are relatively simple and inexpensive to implement. And they can make a huge difference to the efficiency and profitability of your business.
For obvious reasons, customers are now extremely wary of handling old-fashioned printed menus, no matter how diligent staff may be about sanitizing after each service.
And disposable paper menus are a labor-intensive and only partly effective solution.
Fortunately, though, technology has the answer.
It’s now simple to post digital menus on your website, social media platforms or restaurant app, which customers can access from their own devices and from any location.
And to allow contactless on-premise ordering, it’s now easy to generate and program your own unique QR code from a number of website providers. At first sight they’re just an abstract jumble of monochrome symbols. But when scanned with a phone or iPad, they’re immediately transformed into digital menus.
As a restaurant, you can now easily post your QR codes at the entrance to your premises and on tables, enabling customers to view them without any physical contact at all.
Integrate your digital menus with your restaurant POS, and you can have a completely contactless ordering and payment system. And while it’s true that some customers may for the time being require education in the use of QR codes with a consequent extra demand on your staff, this need will surely reduce in the months to come.
AI and machine learning technologies are rapidly transforming the operations of many industries, and no restaurant seeking to survive and prosper in the post-COVID world can afford to ignore them.
Currently, the principal uses of AI for restaurants are as set out below. But this technology is by definition evolving day by day, and it’s difficult to predict what it may become capable of even within the next year or so.
What is certain is that the sooner you begin to explore its benefits the better you will be placed in an ever more competitive market.
The rapid rise in online ordering has also spawned a new generation of increasingly sophisticated virtual assistants and chatbots, which are now able to assist customers in their choices of dish and beverages and the placing of their orders.
The latest machine-learning enabled versions of this technology are also now able to guide customers on their choices based on their expressed preferences.
But perhaps the future of the restaurant business is nowhere more strikingly demonstrated than in the rapid advance of waiting and kitchen robots.
“Pepper”, for example, is a Japanese designed robot waiter that can take and process customer orders, assist with menu selections and accept contactless payments through its handheld tablet. And Pepper’s AI and machine learning capabilities mean that it becomes daily more sophisticated in its responses to queries.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, robots such as “Flippy” and “Moley”, are already able to prepare, cook and plate a surprising range of ingredients and dishes.
Self-service kiosks are already a familiar feature in some large chain outlets, but they are also likely to develop rapidly with the implementation of AI.
Experiments are already underway, for example, in the use of face recognition technology to remember previous customers and the order preferences thereby speeding up the whole service process.
Some of these developments may still look like science fiction, and it is of course uncertain precisely how they will develop.
But what is certain is that AI and machine learning will accelerate an already hectic pace of change; and that no restaurant will be immune from its effects.
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has had a profound impact on the hospitality and restaurant industries, accelerating many of the restaurant technology trends in 2021 that were already evident.
It is, of course, too soon to assess the long-term impact of the pandemic. But it seems safe to assume that many of the changes it has brought will be permanent.
And the five restaurant technology trends in 2021 detailed below will be crucially important.
For obvious reasons, coronavirus has accelerated the increasing popularity of contactless ordering and payments. And more and more customers are insisting on being able to order from their own devices rather than using a traditional printed menu or restaurant provided tablet.
Apps that allow customers to download digital menus using QR codes are now readily available and provide a completely contactless ordering experience.
Customers’ use of digital wallets to allow mobile payments will also continue to increase, and most restaurant POS systems should now be able to accommodate this.
Likewise, restaurant POS systems and related apps should also offer customers the opportunity to make reservations online, whether for in-house dining or curbside pickup, which is likely to remain popular beyond the pandemic.
A good POS system will also be able to monitor online reservations and table turns, ensuring that restaurants continue to operate within any capacity limits imposed by the authorities.
And this feature will remain important even after these restrictions are lifted, as it allows outlets to operate at maximum efficiency.
But to get the best possible results, it’s going to be vital to get optimal productivity from kitchens that may well have to operate with significantly reduced staff numbers.
The trend towards kitchen robots and display systems is therefore likely to gather momentum.
Now, it’s fair to say that robots are not going to replace the creativity and personality of the best human chefs – at least not any time soon.
But “Flippy,” the automated burger chef, is already well-established in outlets across the United States; the Briggo’s Coffee Robot” fulfills contactless orders for barista-quality coffees of all specifications at a rate of 100 an hour; and a new generation of robot arms is already able to chop and prep, season and scoop, heat, mix and stir.
At the same time, new kitchen display systems, integrated with POS, now allow for all orders – whether taken by front of house staff or placed online – to be viewed immediately by kitchen staff.
It’s still in its infancy, but voice ordering through applications such as Alexa and Google Assistant is becoming increasingly popular – particularly with the commercially crucial Generation Zers.
Website and social media chatbots, too, are a great and cost-effective way of engaging with customers, suggesting menu options, sending promotional messages and processing orders.
And both voice ordering and chatbots, of course, are by definition contactless.
This is not strictly a coronavirus driven trend, but the restrictions on business operations and capacity that the pandemic has required have intensified the commercial pressures on what was already a highly competitive business.
So it’s more imperative than ever that outlets of all kinds get the maximum possible return on their marketing spend and loyalty programs.
This means an intense focus on data and analytics and the use of restaurant-specific customer relationship management (CRM) software will become increasingly important in targeting and retaining customers.
By aggregating and analyzing data from all ordering and social media platforms, this software will enable both outlets and chains to run precisely focused campaigns making use of text, email, paid online ads and social media.
In a rapidly changing marketplace, there will, of course, be many other restaurant technology trends in 2021 to emerge. But a focus on these five will go a long way towards ensuring a profitable 2021.
It was a pleasure to join Jim for an enjoyable conversation about the value of QBR’s (Quarterly Business Reviews) and why they are so important to client success. Check out the video and post or go download the podcast.
Join Jeremy, Amber and Adoniram where they talk about data science and the state of the restaurant industry using imperical data. Upserve launched their 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry. Find it here Upserve’s 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry Report
2020 has been a year like no other. And the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a number of 2020 restaurant trends that are now providing immense challenges – but also tremendous opportunities – for the industry.
In its annual State of the Industry report, the leading analyst, Upserve, sets out some of the key ones to be aware of as we look forward to a brighter 2021.
And most interesting, perhaps, is its detailed look at the creative ways in which some businesses have used the crisis to dramatically increase their profits.
For obvious reasons, the popularity of online ordering and curbside pick-up has surged during the pandemic. And now that customers have discovered the ease, convenience – and, of course, safety – offered by contactless online ordering, it’s highly likely that this trend is here to stay.
But the implications for restaurants go far beyond the provision of an online ordering service through a POS system.
It will be now more than ever important to have a strong online presence, including a customer-friendly website with digital menus that allow contactless ordering both from tables and remotely.
And to survive and prosper in the post-COVID world, restaurants will also need to boost their online presence by making full use of social media platforms and online loyalty programs.
Bucking the longer-term trend towards environmentally conscious and wellness menu options, 2020 has seen a reversion to old-fashioned comfort foods and simpler menus.
This is partly because of changes in customer demands driven by the extraordinary emotional and financial stresses of the year. But simpler menus are also more cost-effective for restaurants to produce – with corresponding price benefits for diners. And they lend themselves much better to the maintenance of food quality in delivery and curbside pick-up offers.
A related menu trend has been the popularity of bigger ticket items, such as steaks, seafood, and roasts, among in-house diners.
Comfort foods, yes, but also ones that are best enjoyed when served fresh to the table, and likely to be less suited to carry out services. Customers ordering these items are likely to be seeking a sense of occasion, as well as good food, because they are probably eating out less frequently during the pandemic.
That said, in these financially straitened times, they are also placing even greater importance on value for money. And fixed-price menus have become increasingly popular.
All sectors of the restaurant industry experienced a massive drop in revenues with the onset of the pandemic in March. And the industry as a whole is projected to lose a staggering $240 billion by the end of the year.
But the pain has not been evenly distributed.
Fine dining restaurants and bars, which function as social gathering venues, were particularly badly affected as customers turned to delivery and curbside pick-up options. Restaurants in the fast-casual sector, on the other hand, which already had a strong carry-out offering, have found it much easier to develop this element of their businesses – though it has been nowhere near enough to compensate for their overall losses.
But for all the gloom that has surrounded the economy in 2020, there have been restaurants in all sectors of the industry that have managed to increase their revenues – some by 100% and even more.
Every case is unique, but for all of them the key to their success has been a determination to diversify and add new streams of revenue.
It might mean new menu offerings, different opening hours, enhanced social media outreach, or partnering with neighboring businesses to provide a comprehensive to-go service. The key, always, is creative thinking and working out the best way to meet customers’ needs in these extraordinary times.
In the full Upserve report you’ll find case studies and interviews with some of the outstanding performers – as well as detailed information and analysis of all restaurant trends that have impacted the business this year.
You can download a free copy of the report right here.
Join Jeremy and Founder of SPRWT Michael Rapoport where they talk about how restaurant kitchens can compete with meal prep solutions, drive additional revenue and grow their customer base. Check them out at Sprwt Meal Prep