The Most Challenging Restaurant Industry Technology Trends of 2018

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Every industry is being revolutionized by evolving and newly emerging technologies these days. Things are no different in the restaurant industry, and 2018 has seen some notable—and in many instances, challenging—tech trends that are changing facets of the business.

While some technologies get cheaper over time, many introduce new costs that restaurants with notoriously thin profit margins aren’t well equipped to absorb. Increased overhead isn’t the only challenging aspect of keeping up with technology trends though. It’s tricky to integrate new systems and procedures with existing processes that have been carefully honed for efficiency, reliability, quality assurance and great customer service.

Still, it’s in every brand’s best interest to stay abreast of current restaurant industry technology trends and to look for opportunities to take advantage of them for better operations and customer experiences.

Placing Mobile Orders in Advance

Some of the biggest coffee shop and restaurant chains now offer advance ordering for pickup and takeout via mobile apps. Customers place orders and pay for them from their phones while headed to the establishment. It’s just the sort of efficient, convenient on-demand services consumers look for in our ever-more-mobile-friendly world.

But developing an app with these features and protecting private customer data is complicated and costly—not necessarily realistic for smaller operations with limited technology budgets. Making sure the service smoothly integrates with existing operations poses many logistical challenges as well.

As consumers become more accustomed to this way of ordering over the next few years, and as more brands roll out these capabilities, there will be increasing pressure on smaller competitors to offer mobile ordering to retain market share. For now, third-party providers are the most realistic option for businesses that don’t have their own apps.

Kiosks and Tabletop Tablets for Automated Ordering

Several fast-food, quick-service and casual full-service restaurants have introduced touchscreen kiosks or tabletop tablets for automated ordering. The verdict is still out, but some early evidence shows that customers aren’t too keen on them, even though they reduce wait times and improve accuracy in order fulfillment.

It’s easy to see both sides. Ordering this way is completely impersonal and eliminates opportunities for memorable interactions between customers and employees. It can also be hard to incorporate all the necessary customization options. But it has advantages, like those mentioned above, and it hasn’t really led to elimination of jobs; instead, employees are often reallocated to other areas.

At this time, acquiring, personalizing and integrating ordering kiosks or tabletop tablets represents a significant upfront cost. And it’s still a risky gamble whether customers will appreciate or be turned off by them. To hedge their bets and gather more data, most restaurants still allow diners to choose between automated ordering and ordering with a cashier or server.

Digital Reservation Management Software

The success of OpenTable shows that consumers appreciate the option to make restaurant reservations digitally. But many restaurant owners don’t enjoy paying a commission on every booked table.

Some brands have turned to software that allows restaurants to digitally manage reservations. There are basic options that do little more than take and track reservations, but there are more elaborate versions that suggest seating arrangements, track and predict wait times, notify diners via text when their table is ready, inform customers about the progress of their orders, record customer information (like favorite dishes, birthdays and anniversaries) for servers and offer other useful features.

As with other technologies, this software presents several challenges, including an upfront cost that’s often prohibitive. Converting to this system can be difficult and require extensive employee retraining, and someone must always be on hand who’s capable of quickly troubleshooting. Hopefully, the cost, simplicity and reliability of such software will continue to improve over the next few years, making it more accessible.

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