The hospitality industry may have been dealt a bad hand this year, but by the grace of reimagined digital solutions, it hasn’t been knocked out of the game. The pandemic-related setbacks that restaurants across the country have faced have been met with accelerated innovation in restaurant technology — a necessary response to dramatic shifts in safety requirements, customer demands, and ordering trends.
As safety and convenience continue to heavily influence consumer dining trends into the new year, the digitization of the dining experience will be not only the saving grace for many struggling restaurants, but the new normal of the surviving restaurant industry.
The 2020 Shift
After the first wave of the pandemic forced restaurants to temporarily shut down, the surviving establishments needed to overhaul their technology to enhance safety measures to avoid joining the many establishments nationwide forced to permanently close. For many, this overhaul meant implementing fully integrated technology suites to streamline front of house and back of house operations, adopting digital solutions to enhance safety measures, and pivoting their services to adapt to the new normal.
The Guest Experience
When restaurants reopened, many quickly implemented tableside QR-codes directing smart-phone owners to online menus to replace the physical menus once shared among diners. Many restaurants have added digital menu boards as another touchless alternative. We’ve also seen an explosion in contactless payment options, including tableside QR-codes and other touchless technology, all of which dramatically reduce shared touchpoints and streamline the payment process.
Restaurants have had to retool services beyond their doors by enhancing their online ordering and delivery capabilities in order to keep up with shifting dining trends. Restricted restaurant capacity and rising demand for delivery have sparked a surge in online ordering, with third-party and in-house apps offering a plethora of food options while simultaneously providing a new level of convenience to hungry customers stuck at home. With safety and convenience at the forefront of ordering decisions, touchless payments and online ordering will continue to mature into the new year.
The Employee Experience
The wave of tech adoption has increasingly influenced online ordering services to be integrated into in-house restaurant technology to streamline ordering, improve efficiency, and reduce the risk of food waste and other costly mistakes. At full-service restaurants, order-taking has transitioned from the high touchpoints of shared point of sale (POS) systems to personal tablets for individual servers to improve efficiency and increase safety.
As back of house technology matures, the ongoing transition from the shared paper chit system to digital kitchen display systems (KDS) will continue to dramatically improve food preparation efficiency, streamline communication between the front and back of house, and better control costs. Not only that, but the user-friendliness of KDS will create job opportunities for less experienced workers at a time when jobs are hard to come by and the industry struggles to maintain experienced employees.
The Future is Tech-Savvy
Following a year of setbacks and hardship, the restaurant industry has proven its tenacity and its ability to evolve. While many restaurants have implemented technology to improve their efficiency and otherwise operate business-as-usual, others will continue to completely redesign the restaurant model to create pandemic-proof restaurants. As customers demand enhanced safety measures and increasingly opt for convenience, we expect the new year to bring more concepts like Toronto’s Box’d, which has automated the ordering experience and completely removed the need for front of house staff.
The response to the surge in online ordering has caused a wave of new restaurants to join third- party apps to broaden their audience and stay in the competition, but we expect the new year will see a rise in in-house ordering technology. By adopting in-house tech, restaurants will not only avoid the steep costs of third-party apps, but they will also have an opportunity to regain ownership of their customer engagement. At a time when positive guest experiences are crucial in avoiding further devastating setbacks, this will allow restaurants to gain direct control over this experience, immediately resolve any issues without the use of a third party, and improve customer loyalty to drive cash flow.
Taking technology in-house can also provide opportunities to launch new revenue streams, like grocery delivery, and we expect the new year to continue to expedite innovation in restaurants as businesses seek to expand their service and product offerings to reach new audiences. The pandemic may have ignited the new normal of the restaurant experience, but the digital transformation of the hospitality industry has only just begun. 2021 will see the evolution of the restaurant experience, inspired by heightened demands for safety and convenience, but driven by regained ownership of customer engagement and a dedicated focus on growing customer loyalty.