How technology is changing the hospitality industry

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Robin Gagnon is the co-founder of We sell restaurantsa franchise for business brokers focused on the sale of restaurants.

The world is changing and technological breakthroughs are constantly being made. Many different industries and fields evolve as companies find ways to use the latest technology, and restaurants are no exception. During the recent 2022 Franchise Customer Experience Conference, multiple awards went to restaurant brands for their innovations as Franchise Operations & Technology Leadership Award finalists. These include Checkers and Rally’s restaurants, Smoothie King and Inspire Brands.

In many ways, the pandemic accelerated technology adoption by customers as they got smarter and accepted more apps to order, QR codes for menus, and more. Now restaurants are leveraging the power of technology further with multiple approaches. Think of innovations to improve the customer experience, such as geofencing, order kiosks and even artificial intelligence.

The addition of technology tools and programs creates additional costs for restaurant franchisees. As such, I’ve found that franchise brands are increasingly adding technology fees to franchise disclosure documents, as this ensures their brands have enough capital to continue investing and restaurant owners can incorporate new technology into their operations.

Here are some of the latest technologies adapted for the food service industry.

May I take your order?

There’s no one behind that speaker. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking orders from Checkers and Rally’s and the first tests yielded strong results:

• The machine or AI was more efficient than humans at taking orders.

• The guest experienced a consistent customer journey 100% of the time with a pleasant voice.

• Upselling (“Do you want fries?” or “Can I have bacon with that?”) was achieved 100% of the time.

For employees, they found that implementing AI for order-taking resulted in less pressure on staff and more time to focus on more valuable tasks and customer interaction. Checkers and Rally’s isn’t the only brand – Smoothie King is also implementing AI orders nationwide and more are sure to follow.

Kiosks are another way technology can handle your ordering process. Some franchises, especially quick-service restaurants (QSRs), have added touch-screen ordering kiosks to their locations. Like online ordering and the software that makes it possible, this can help ensure the accuracy of the order as the customer enters their order in person into the system and reviews the order before finalizing it. These kiosks can also suggest new menu items to repeat customers based on previous orders. They can even be programmed to recognize customers using cameras and facial recognition software. Order kiosks are proving to be both effective and increasingly popular as a means of streamlining customer service in QSRs.

Finally, customer acceptance of online ordering apps means they can place the order themselves and feel quite comfortable with the experience. People also order remotely more often. Just as the telephone eventually led to the practice of ordering takeout and takeout, the internet has led to the practice of ordering online. Cuboh, an online order aggregator, found it that among the growing trends in restaurant technology are online ordering and mobile payments.

Ready when you are

Another technology application that restaurants are readily adopting is geofencing. Geofencing is the use of GPS devices and/or radio frequency identification to create virtual boundaries in a geographic area. For restaurants, this can be used to track customers who travel to the restaurant and have downloaded apps for their smartphone. This is used by restaurants and food delivery services to coordinate cooking and customer service so that the food is cooked based on the customer’s location to ensure the correct temperature and quality.

Restaurant staff can track customers ordering takeout to schedule cooking times, and customers can also receive digital coupons for restaurants they visit when they enter a geofenced area around the restaurant. Geofencing is also useful for customers to do their own tracking. Deliverers can be equipped with devices and apps that allow the customer to track their route and know the status of their order.

An example of a franchise that uses geofencing is Panera Bread. The chain uses geofencing around their locations to alert staff to customer arrivals. When a customer uses the Panera Bread app to place an order for takeout, the location where the order is placed is pinged when the customer arrives within the geofenced area, allowing staff to deliver their order to the customer’s vehicle .

Making space in the kitchen

Some food service franchises use shared kitchens. These are commercial kitchen facilities that are rented out to multiple operators by the hour or by the day. These facilities allow franchisees to operate without having to worry about the costs and responsibilities of building ownership, sharing real estate costs and expenses. They also allow newer franchises to take advantage of the expertise and advice of those more experienced working from the same building.

Shared kitchens are a whole new franchise concept. According to an April 13 report of Tracxna global research service, there are 48 shared kitchen franchises worldwide.

Still service with a smile

Technology is a differentiator because its application can provide a consistent customer experience and remove personal interpretation of brand standards. For most brands, inconsistency is the enemy of good customer service. Technology by itself will never replace the human touch, but in an environment that still faces labor challenges, the order fulfillment AI or kiosk never calls in sick or has a long hiatus. However, it can break or fail without an internet connection.

As technology changes the foodservice industry, there will always be a need for a personal touch. Automation and digitization are helping franchises compete, but there still needs to be a friendly face at dinner. It takes the right mix of technology and teamwork to create a recipe for success.


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