Jul 06 2016

The Connected Eatery Is Reimagining the Dining Experience

Restaurants and other eating establishments are deploying innovative solutions that cut costs, improve service and attract loyal customers.

Restaurants of all types are reinventing the modern dining experience. Today’s advances in technology are paving the way for rapid innovation, faster service, new types of entertainment and a variety of other guest-focused activities while also helping to increase efficiency and boost traffic.

For example, many restaurants, such as fast-casual businesses that focus on high-quality food but do not offer table service, are using social media and mobile apps to better connect with customers while deploying workforce management solutions to improve the use of employees’ time and effort. Cutting-edge technologies are also leading to fresh and imaginative types of dining experiences, such as virtual restaurants that serve guests only via delivery.

Technology has become an essential tool to improve the overall restaurant experience by keeping guests happy and encouraging them to stick around longer. “Restaurants will need to embrace smart dining or risk their brands quickly becoming stale,” says Greg Buzek, president of the IHL Group, a retail and hospitality advisory firm. “Consumers today expect nothing less than speed, convenience and modernity.”

Younger Consumers Have Different Habits 

The changing demographics and expectations of younger consumers, particularly millennials, are bringing a new set of attitudes toward life, work and where (and how) they choose to eat, says Annika Stensson, director of research communications for the National Restaurant Association. Today's consumers increasingly use mobile apps and social media to review dining options, place orders, see accurate wait times, avoid lines and even reserve specific tables.

“Mobile applications can provide a convenience to prospective customers, offering a plethora of information, including locations, menus, reservations, reviews, photo galleries and more,” says Brad Tracy, global segment manager for retail solutions with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. “Restaurants can use their apps to target previous guests as well as to offer loyalty programs, promotions and notifications of upcoming events.”

Stensson notes that restaurant operators are growing to appreciate the power of social media to attract customers and build loyalty. “Overall, roughly a third of consumers say they factor in information they find on social media when choosing a restaurant, and that number rises to more than half among millennials, so it can be a powerful tool for restaurant marketing, customer service and engagement,” she says. “This year, nearly two in five restaurant operators plan to increase their social media resources.”

Embracing diners' expectations means understanding and leveraging the growing importance that customer experience has in a restaurant's success. Whether on-site or online, whether mobile or social, technology gives even neighborhood dining establishments the opportunity to extend a more personal encounter to a larger audience. Offering a positive, consistent experience across all channels is essential to growing a customer base and building longstanding loyalty, Buzek notes.

Electronic Ordering Goes Mainstream 

The restaurant technology field is growing increasingly crowded and complex, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Many restaurant operators are playing the role of early adopters, enjoying the benefits of multiple emerging technologies while also coping with the trials of integrating technologies and workflows.

One bright spot is the growing number of restaurants that are equipping their servers with electronic ordering devices, eliminating the need for handwritten notes. Since all dining selections are wirelessly transmitted to the kitchen, no orders are lost, and the risk of mistakes is significantly reduced, Buzek notes. “One of the biggest areas of delay is the time it takes servers to write everything down,” he says. “Then, as they go to get the order into the system, they meet another customer along the way who needs a drink refill and another customer who needs his bill and, before you know it, it's 10 minutes before the order is actually put in.”

Applebee's, Johnny Rockets and several other restaurant chains are taking electronic ordering a step further by deploying tableside touch-screen devices that allow guests to view special offers, select menu items and beverages, and even play games. Buzek says that automation can speed the ordering process by as much as 25 percent.

“A majority of consumers agree that technology can increase order accuracy and speed at restaurants, a third say the availability of technology makes them choose one restaurant over another and 37 percent say it makes them dine out or order takeout or delivery more often,” Stensson says. However, she adds, “it's imperative to ensure that the user experience is intuitive and smooth for the restaurant guest, or it will contribute to the two in five consumers who currently say that technology makes restaurant visits and ordering more complicated.”

Using Technology to Improve the Dining Experience 

While some restaurateurs have expressed concern that restaurant technology may lead to a decline in human interaction, in many ways IT solutions enhance the human touch. In the smart dining era, servers will finally be allowed to slip out of their current roles as order takers and payment clerks to become dining experts, engaging guests on a variety of food and beverage issues and creating dining experiences that are both memorable and authentically personal.

“Technology is a tool restaurateurs can employ to enhance efficiency and productivity, but it is in no way a replacement for personal customer service,” Stensson says. “Our research clearly shows that restaurant guests still value human interaction during their dining experience.”

To learn more about how advanced technologies can enhance customer experiences, read the CDW white paper “Up to Speed and into The Future: Modernizing Retail Technology.” 


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