By Jurgen Ketel, Managing Director EMEA, Givex, discusses how tech is transforming catering and hospitality

 

We don’t always think of the restaurant industry in terms of digital transformation, possibly because it remains one of the few areas that will always have physical elements, require physical service, and cohere into an overall physical experience. No amount of digital transformation will make a picky customer enjoy sub-par food or unfriendly staff, after all.

And yet, digital transformation is playing an increasingly central role in modern restaurants. If you can’t yet automate meal preparation, you might be able to streamline the ordering, delivery, and payment processes. If you can’t coax an unwilling customer to visit your establishment, you can perhaps convince them to let you bring a hot meal directly to them at home through an app such as Just Eat, Deliveroo or UberEats. Consumer expectations are changing, economic confidence is low, and financial pressure is building: if restaurants are to survive, they must change with them.

To some extent, that means maintaining an awareness of new technologies and integrating them into restaurants wherever possible. But which technological trends should restaurant owners be particularly aware of?

Here are five to keep an eye on in 2019.

 

Electronic point of sale (EPOS) and kiosk technology

In recent years, EPOS and self-service kiosk technology have both worked to update the image of modern restaurants: the former has made it easier for staff to process orders; the latter has significantly sped up the ordering process for the customer; both offer the opportunity to gather significant quantities of consumer data that could be leveraged to inform critical business decisions.

Customers are demanding more control, more flexibility, and more efficiency, and these systems are providing them.

A good EPOS system helps to amass detailed reports about consumer behaviour and preferences. What are they buying? What are they not buying? What might they buy, if upsold at the till? POS systems can reveal all.

It can also rapidly complete orders. With a comprehensive EPOS system, there are no more checkout delays; the customer can get right to eating their food, and the staff benefit from a more user-friendly system that makes it easier to process larger and more complex orders. These systems make it possible to effectively manage inventory. You’ll always know what you have, what you don’t have, and what’s coming in – essential for proper financial and operational oversight.

Self-service kiosks are also worthwhile for several reasons. Typically, they’ll defray a restaurant’s labour costs. There’s so much more to great service than taking notes with a smile. The less time your employees are spending taking orders, the more time they have for other duties – and with kiosks, restaurants can save time and money for more important things.

More importantly, they give the customer a sense of control. Patrons don’t want to waste their energy umm-ing and ahh-ing in front of a distracted customer service professional; they want to make orders in their own time and make their own modifications to their meal without feeling awkward, and without feeling shamed for the amount of food they’re ordering. Studies have also shown that customers who use self-service kiosks also tend to spend more money.

Finally, they speed up delivery time. Customers dislike waiting; staff dislike irate customers; kiosks make both of them happy.

 

Mobile apps

For all the data restaurants can amass on their customers, one assumption is reasonably solid: they have mobile phones – and if they have mobile phones, they have access to your menu, your reviews, and maybe even your app.

And apps are becoming particularly integral to the experience of interacting with a restaurant in the US, Germany, and various other countries, even if they remain an up-and-coming technology in the UK. Restaurants can upsell customers from smartphones: advertising drinks, desserts, and other menu items to people who might be more willing to make the order on an app than with a regular waiter.

Beyond smartphones, tableside ordering makes it possible for customers to order food from a tablet device – saving time while staff are busy and allowing customers to alert waiters when the bill is ready. It also makes awkward considerations such as bill-splitting considerably more manageable.

If you’re running a restaurant, ensure your EPOS system can integrate with delivery apps. Without the right integration, you run the risk of human error and damaging productivity levels when staff have to manually key in delivery orders. Integrating your EPOS system can make it simpler and quicker for you and your customer.

 

Kitchen Display Systems (KDS)

One of the enduring problems that restaurants have is managing cook times. Knowing which food to prioritise, which customers to serve first, and how to marshal the kitchen so that no patron is dissatisfied, and no employee overworked is essential – and complicated.

KDS tools integrate with the POS and kiosk systems to deliver orders directly to the kitchen, and thereby take a lot of the complexity out of this process: helping establishments work in a way that facilitates maximum efficiency. Guests at the same table get their orders at the same time; products are consistent across all locations – regardless of cook experience – and wastage is reduced.

It’s a kind of technology that’s already popular in restaurants, and it’s one that will contribute to a comprehensive, transparent overview of guest experience and kitchen performance through real-time reporting: reducing mistakes, and maximising customer happiness.

 

Digital signage

Restaurants have historically struggled to move with the times; their services and their aesthetic remaining static while appetites literally changed. Altering a menu often proved difficult, and if customers didn’t take to the food, costly.

But digital signage, particularly in QSRs, changes all that. For one thing, it looks more professional than the analogue alternative – logos, fonts, and colours can be altered to match the style and branding of the restaurant. For another, it makes menus changeable. If you want to launch a seasonal promotion, you can do so easily. If you want to permanently change your menu, it’s also possible. If products are unavailable, you can announce it on the board immediately instead of telling each and every customer, and if products aren’t selling well, you can withdraw them without fuss.

 

Data analytics and reporting

The more information a restaurant has, the better it can serve its customers. With that in mind, data analytics and reporting will be a crucial component of the industry for many years to come – especially when navigating difficult financial obstacles.

It’s not just about knowing what customers want and figuring out how to give it to them. It’s about tracking daily sales performance and working out where it went right and where it went wrong; it’s about keeping track of inventory in real-time; it’s about managing the roll-out of local, nationwide, and even global seasonal campaigns. All of these tasks and more require sophisticated, in-depth data – gathered and analysed with the right reporting tools.

These tools, typically available on mobile devices as apps, can provide up-to-date summaries of sales and weigh them against valuable metrics like return counts, voids and discounts. This can give you deeper levels of insight into trends and performance on a restaurant, region, or nation-wide level.

2019 could be a transformative year for the restaurant industry, or it could be another year of incremental progress. Either way, expect technology to take centre stage.