Remember in old movies when the year 2000 was expected to have flying cars and moving sidewalks? Even though it is 2010 and cars are still very much grounded, technology has advanced at an exponential level in only a matter of years. Computers and gadgets are getter smaller, TVs are getting thinner and automated operators seem to be the only thing on the other end of the phone. While most technology is moving in the direction of entertainment, there are numerous advances in the technology used for operating a business. From an upgraded Web site to an automated drive-through, upgrading your restaurant to include the latest technologies can be a crucial part of maintaining your business and staying competitive in the industry.
Restaurant USA states that: “The importance of technology in the restaurant industry cannot be understated…Technology offers one of the few opportunities for cutting costs, improving efficiency and affecting the bottom line.”1 Investing in technology is a serious move to improve your business, and while it can contain a lofty price tag, the return can outweigh the initial cost. A business is a constantly evolving concept and needs to continue adapting to be more efficient and profitable. Technology is also ever-changing and can be a great thing to integrate into your restaurant or shop, as long as it benefits the customer as much as the business. Staying competitive and offering customers an experience that is unique and as efficient as possible are the real goals to integrating the latest technology into business. Whether you want to invest a lot or a little in the technology of your business, here are a few up-and-coming trends that will add value to your business and satisfaction for your customers.
One simple way to upgrade your business is to add WiFi. If your business already has a high-speed Internet connection, this can be as simple as purchasing a wireless router that will allow many users to log on simultaneously. This form of technology is becoming a regular expectation in the industry. Hosting a WiFi “hotspot” can attract new customers, increase revenue from current customers and create an overall atmosphere that encourages customers to stay longer. Now that people are connected 24/7, they want to dine somewhere that will keep them connected. You also have the option to password-protect your WiFi and offer complementary access with a minimum purchase or have it available for everyone.
If you’re looking for another simple upgrade, joining the “techage” can also mean keeping your Web site up-to-date. Make sure to post things that will draw customers in with excitement or intrigue. Many customers and potential customers will go online to look up hours, directions and menus. Placing a menu online can be an easy, yet important step to gain awareness of your business and give people the chance to see all the products offered and the hours of operation. Even if your Web site is basic, having one is a clear advantage over restaurants and shops that don’t.
Online Ordering and Self-Service Kiosks
Another concept becoming increasingly popular is putting the ordering process in the customer’s hands. While initially a larger investment than other technology options, online ordering and self-service kiosks are becoming increasing popular. These allow customers to choose their items according to photos and review their order before placing to prevent errors and reduce your labor costs. Ordering online allows the customer to feel in control and make the decision to give you the business even before leaving the house or office. Self-service kiosks are popping up everywhere from grocery stores to restaurants, which customers see as a means of convenience. By adding a self-service center, regular customers who have a good idea of the menu and know what they want will most likely find it useful, allowing them to quickly order and transact rather than wait in line. According to an article from Restaurants and Institutions magazine, “By saving diners time and effort, restaurants increase customer satisfaction. Thus, technologies that make placing a reservation or ordering food, or that speed transactions and reduce wait time may be valuable additions.”2 Pagers are another way to keep customer satisfaction high. Allowing the customer to walk away and return when they receive a page can take the negatives out of waiting.
Digital Menu Boards and Signage
For those customers who wish to take a moment to glance at the menu, it’s important to keep your menu current and eye-catching. One of the largest trends in the industry right now is digital menu boards. Like a Web site, these menus can be updated in real time and are more interactive than static menu boards. While this investment can range from one screen behind the counter to screens around your entire restaurant, it has been found to be a success when it comes to customers.
Digital signage has many benefits besides just being more aesthetic to tech-savvy customers than traditional menu signage. “Aesthetically, it’s a much nicer looking thing than a traditional manual sign, and it’s visible during the day and night,” says Kari Strom of Culver’s Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers. “It’s just been a huge marketing feature for us.” Much of the business at Culver’s Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers is attributed to sales of the “flavor of the day” famous homemade custard. Posting the daily selection on a sign in front of the restaurant to entice customers is one of the easiest marketing strategies the chain employs.3
Digital signage also allows you to consider another source of revenue. With moving screens capturing customers’ attentions, it could be the opportunity to open that space to local advertising. If a local festival or event will be occurring soon, consider opening your menu to advertising for the event. This may be a way to bring in extra revenue and could be a trade off in cross-marketing.
Digital Applications (Apps)
If you want to reach your customers by taking technology one step further, look to the recent popularity of the iPhone, iPods and other touchscreen products. Applications, which are programs designed to perform specific tasks, have made a name for themselves in almost every industry and are easily downloaded on these devices. Many restaurants and shops are creating applications for customers to do a variety of things, from quickly viewing their menus and hours of operations to sending a message to a friend to join them at a particular shop. They can be developed for a small cost to your business, but you can benefit in a big way by staying right on the edge of the technology curve.
Stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and take some time to find out which gadgets and tools are right for you. Be sure to also stay current on the industry trade shows in your area. These shows illustrate trends in the restaurant industry and allow you to see what works best for you. Whether you have the budget for a complete technology overhaul or just enough to make a small upgrade, the idea of integrating technology into your business is something that should definitely be considered. From simple to extreme, the options are out there.
1 Belman, David. (1997). Tools of the Trade: Technology in the
Restaurant. Restaurant USA. www.restaurant.org/business/magazine.
2 (2009) Technology: Restaurant Consumers See Most Value in
Virtual Menus, Pagers… Restaurants and Institutions. www.rimag.
3 Jaime Hartford. (2005) Sign Savvy. QSR Magazine.