The next big trend to infiltrate the restaurant industry? All signs point to technological makeovers. A new report says annual revenue from mobile apps is set to reach $99 billion by 2019, and dining will no doubt be one of the leading growth sectors.
In many current cases, restaurant technology pops up in ways that seem frivolous, like establishments demanding job applications be submitted via Snapchat, or social network apps intended to facilitate “meaningful” relationships between customers. But in other forms, it’s proven to be a game-changer for operations—and ultimately the bottom line.
Despite their impersonal awkwardness, tablets can improve the customer experience, reducing order errors and improving efficiency overall. Tableside tablet company Ziosk helped Chili’s install more than 77,000 devices at locations throughout the United States. A rival company, E La Carte, helped Applebee’s install 100,000 this past year. These tables serve as menu, waiter, entertainment, point-of-sale, and survey platforms all at once. They can also help deliver promotions and gather intel on the dining experience. It’s easy to see why companies love them, even if diners sometimes wish they could just talk to a real person.
With an increasing demand of consumer-facing technology, restaurants are exploring new ways to shape the dining experience while appealing to savvy smartphone users. From Instagram menus to smart-watch delivery trackers, here’s a look at the next wave of restaurant-technology concepts—and our predictions for how each will fare in the marketplace.
Where you can find it now: Although the trend began at Cómodo in New York, the phenomenon has since caught on at restaurants across the country, and even the world. A few examples include Southport Grocery in Chicago, Vapiano restaurants across Australia, The Four Seasons in Las Vegas, Poppadoms in Kelowna, British Columbia, and Uno Chicago Grill in the Honduras.
The futuristic innovation: It’s an undeniable fact that people love to Instagram their food. Latin restaurant Cómodo tried to differentiate itself from the other 18,000 restaurants in Manhattan by introducing the #comodomenu hashtag, and using those photos to create an “Instagram menu” where diners could browse the hashtag to see all of the restaurant’s options, as well as add their own photos. The underlying principle being: If you’re unsure of what to order, you can look through pictures and see what other friends/customers have already ordered.Staying power: Very high. There is no cost to creating a hashtag, and there’s a common benefit to both the diners, who get to see what they’re actually ordering, and the restaurant, which gets free marketing in return. Cómodo, the first restaurant to do this, saw more than 280 million impressions from its Instagram menu, as well as people calling in for reservations up to five months in advance. (Photo: Cómodo)
Plates with Squid Ink QR Codes
Where you can find it: Taranta in Boston
The futuristic innovation: In addition to using scannable quick-response codes on business cards and t-shirts, Taranta chef Jose Duarte has been known to plate dishes with squid ink QR codes so that diners can use their smartphones to quickly and easily access ingredient information, recipes, or related videos.
Staying power: Low. Despite the buzz they initially generated a few years back, QR codes have never really caught on; it’s estimated that only 15% of smartphone users take advantage of QR codes. (Photo: Taranta)
Interactive Touchscreen Tables
Where you can find it: Inamo Restaurant in London
The futuristic innovation: At Inamo, an Asian-fusion restaurant in London’s Soho district, every diner sits at a virtual table that allows you to order your food and beverage, watch the chef prepare your meal via webcam, and even request a taxi home after you’re done with dinner.
Staying power: Low. Sure, there’s novelty in eating on a touchscreen table exactly once in your life, but that’s probably enough. Hailing an Uber works just fine, and who wants to spend Friday night dinner with friends staring down at their table the entire time? Whatever happened to human interaction? (Photo: Inamo Restaurant)
Helicopter Drone Servers
Where you can find it: Timbre restaurants across Singapore
The futuristic innovation: At one chain of restaurants in Singapore, customers order on tablets, while unmanned aerial vehicles deliver food to tables in place of servers. The restaurant group claims it cuts down on manpower constraints like delivery delays. The drones are supposedly very safe, operating on a set of “anti-collision algorithms.”
Staying power: Low. Surely the costs of the inevitable onslaught of lawsuits will far outweigh any gains. Didn’t anybody learn from that mistletoe drone at TGI Fridays cutting someone’s face open? (Photo: Timbre Group)
“Subconscious” Eye-Tracking Tablet Menus
Where you can find it: Pizza Hut has been testing this technology in its 300 locations across the UK. If the pilot test goes well, a potential expansion to the States could be a reality.
The futuristic innovation: Pizza Hut wants to read your mind in a matter of seconds with its new “subconscious menu,” a special tablet that shows diners pizza topping options and tracks eye movements to determine what you’re craving based on which of the toppings you’ve looked at the longest.
Staying power: High. This is the next frontier in digital ordering, which Domino’s says made up 40% of its business last quarter. Plus, when you really think about it, this technology isn’t all that different from the web’s ubiquitous recommendation engines. (Photo: Pizza Hut)
Smartwatch-Accessible, GPS-Powered Delivery Tracker
Where you can find it: Get the delivery tracker, which is exclusive to Domino’s, on your smartwatch device by visiting the Pebble App store.
The futuristic innovation: The Domino’s Tracker—a technology that allows you to follow your order, from prepping and baking, to quality check and delivery—isn’t groundbreaking. But thanks to a new partnership with smartwatch Pebble, now you can follow it all on your wrist, checking your pizza like you would the time.
Staying power: Low. For a while now, Domino’s has been dealing with rumors that the delivery tracker doesn’t always tell the truth. Plus, given the prevalence of smartphones, a smartwatch app feels redundant. (Photo: Pebble)
Custom Self-Ordering Kiosks
Where you can find it: McDonald’s is currently testing this concept, which it calls the “Create Your Taste” kiosk. The chain plans to roll it out at as many as 2,000 units nationwide this year.
The futuristic innovation: At certain fast food burger joints, you can now place your order on flatscreen at a self-serve kiosk, choosing their own bun or roll, cheese, sauces, and toppings. Then you’ll take a pager and wait for your food to arrive six to eight minutes later.
Staying power: High. This technology, which would allow fast-food’s biggest players to allow customized order, could revolutionize the industry. Not only does it empower the consumer, who has the freedom of choice, but the technology also reduces labor costs while improving accuracy and speed. (Photo: Philosophyy)