Restaurant technology has grown in the last few years. Apps are more intuitive than ever, websites are smarter and technology can help hiring and retention, delivery and operations. Costs for these emerging technologies make them more accessible to independent restaurants and small chains, who fight with the big guys for more than just customers. Technology, it seems, is making the restaurant industry bigger and better.
Here are five emerging technologies I found at the National Restaurant Association Show in May:
Cheerful little robots zigzagged and dodged attendees with their adorable little eyes and cheerful beeping. Libby Wang, who handles global marketing for Segway Robotics said the main job of this robot is to serve food from the kitchen to the table and bus dirty dishes. “They can help restaurant owners to deal with the labor shortage as well as to improve efficiency,” Wang said.
There’s also software for robots that takes them beyond the factory settings. John Wang (no relation to Libby Wang) of Rocky Mountain Robotech said the software from his company turns a robotic server into a hostess, a runner, waitstaff and a host.
“That saves time, and that saves mistakes because everything is being displayed,” Wang said, “so you know what tables have ordered.” Payment is made by QR code or credit card.
If the restaurant not busy, the robot will sit by the front door waiting for the next customer to come into the restaurant.
Hiring and onboarding technology
I swung by the Restaurant365 booth to introduce myself, as they’ll be the spotlight sponsor for Pizza Marketplace’s Pizza Leadership Virtual Summit on July 27 (click here for more information and to register). I talked to Mark Calvillo, senior vice president, product, who introduced me to their Hire program, an easy-to-use applicant tracking system for potential employees.
“Because of the labor shortages in the industry now, restaurants are trying to attract as many new employees as possible and retain them,” Calvillo said. “The Hire product allows them to do that very quickly. It’s mobile friendly.”
The entire hiring process can be done via text messaging since getting applicants to sit down, fill out a paper application and interview can be difficult. The Hire product can also combine applications from online job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn.
“It makes that whole process really, really streamlined,” Calvillo said. Hire also works with Restaurant365’s proprietary and HR products as well.
QR codes for menus and paying
Sunday is just one of the companies using QR codes for order and pay capabilities. Reps said the QR codes can save at least 15 minutes on each table turn, increase check averages by 12%, increase tip averages by 18% and save 30% more time for servers.
“Since the first day of sunday, we’ve been obsessed with one thing, that customers enjoy their moment on site 100%, and that restaurant owners can focus on their primary mission, pampering their customers,” Christine de Wendel, co-founder of sunday, said. “After giving 15 minutes of their time back to customers and staff members in the traditional restaurant business, we are now also offering this to bars, food courts, fast food restaurants and festivals.
From now on, no one will be waiting in line at the counter for 20 minutes to order a drink or a dish. This is an absolute change for the sector, for the customers and for the staff.”
Back of the house finally gets its due
The front of the house, that which is visible to the public, is kept shiny and full of the latest technology while the back of the house gets stuck with scruffy equipment that do their jobs with little fanfare. Coca-Cola has created a version of its popular front-of-the-house soda dispenser for back of the house use — the Freestyle 8100, designed specifically for the crew-serve occasion, which made its debut at the NRA Show.
Coca-Cola interviewed crews, managers, directors and leaders at restaurants to see what team members wanted in a crew-serve dispenser. The result is an intuitive machine that pairs with iPhone and iPads and offers more than 200 beverage selections, including more than 100 low-calorie and 90 caffeine-free choices.
“With Freestyle 8100, we set out to not only deliver a revolutionary beverage experience for diners, but also to make the job of foodservice crews easier,” Ren Powell, director, platform innovation for Coca-Cola Freestyle, said in a press release given to the media at the show. “The new features and technology will make pouring the right beverage – a time-consuming task for crews who are busier than ever due to the labor shortage and increased drive-thru traffic — infinitely simpler, which means diners get their favorite Coca-Cola beverage at the drive-thru even faster.”
Cool delivery options
The bright red Solo Fleet electric vehicle caught everyone’s eye on the show floor for one main reason — the car has three wheels and room for up to 12 delivery boxes. Justin Hazelton, fleet sales consultant for parent company ElectraMeccanica, said the company was spotlighting the all-electric Solo cargo edition. It’s a 100-mile-range vehicle (on a full charge) that’s street and highway legal in the U.S. Top speed is 80 mph. It’s going to come with all the standard creature comforts that a normal vehicle would come with such as A/C, heated seats, Bluetooth and back-up cameras.
With a cargo section at the back of the vehicle with room for boxes, such as 12 pizza boxes, it’s optimal for delivery. Restaurants are paying fees for third-party delivery apps.
“Where we see ourselves is between micro-mobility and sedans,” Hazelton said. “It’s a very underserved niche on the market right now.”