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.