Technology. It is around us everywhere and it is becoming a necessity, highly requested and above all expected within the hospitality industry.
A few weeks back, a third year journalism and political science student at Carleton University named Rielly Riggs approached me with a few questions on the topic of tech within the restaurant industry, to be used for a feature writing course she is taking. I thought it would be a good piece to share, given its relevance to our changing restaurant scene and how the restaurant experience is inevitably changing with the introduction of technology.
Let’s dive in;
1. How is technology changing the dining experience for consumers?
I feel the experience is truly in the hands of the restaurant owner or establishment; as they surely have the ability to become more technologically savvy and introduce features like; tablet ordering or menus, phone payments, online ordering apps, advanced POS systems, social media integration (regarding marketing) and even futuristic-like features including drone service, virtual reality, 3D food printing and just recently I saw an interactive table menu where you can view the menu and order right on the table top. These along with many other advancements, is definitely changing the way restaurants form the dining experience, but whether it is welcomed is another question.
Personally, I feel that the restaurant experience itself can become much more streamlined with new technological advances, although the user or customer needs to be open to adapting to these new features in order for it to be successful or even mainstream.
2. Do you think people are benefitting from being able to order their food and do other tasks electronically at restaurants?
These advancements have become somewhat expected in the order process, given we are in an era of technology. But whether or not it is beneficial, is definitely the biggest question. With this, you must understand the user, your market and the general public whether it be their personal understanding of such technologies or even if it is the right fit for your market as a restaurant. I recently did a menu design for a restaurant whose main clientele was baby boomers. Technology would most likely fail in this type of setting, as this clientele is commonly used to the old mom and pop diners (generally speaking). Whereas if you are the new up and coming urban restaurant trying to make an impact on the Gen Z’s, of course this technology would be more then welcoming. The next step would be to make sure it is user friendly as some technologies fail before they even start. Look at McDonald’s self ordering machines; these would surely have to go through many levels of testing before hitting stores to make sure they are functionally sound, and yet I have still heard complaints. It can get complicated, but all and all yes it is beneficial as long as it fits within the right setting.
3. Is this technology changing the labour market in the restaurant industry? Are the jobs and roles of servers changing as new technology is being brought in?
I can surely see it making an impact on the market in coming years, for the good and bad. For example; using tablets to streamline and speed up the ordering process can help servers put out orders quicker and in turn making the customer happier — which can ultimately result in returning business. I have also seen it replace servers altogether, which in my opinion is sad that we have replaced human communication with devices. Since there has been ongoing debate and issues with service wages, this may be the only alternative for some restaurants; cutting labour costs and helping the bottom line. I personally don’t think you can replace good service with a computer and I feel it dehumanizes a restaurant brand which can be detrimental in forming the restaurant experience. So there definitely should be a balance.
4. Technology really seems to be changing the restaurant industry more in other countries, such as China, Japan, and even the U.S. Have changes been brought into Canada yet, and if not, when do you think we will start to see big changes being made?
It can be cultural in some cases, but this can also be driven by economy. There are a lot of technological advances in China and Japan driven by economy, while their culture is very open to technology as a whole, making it more accessible and usable. This formula makes it easier to become mainstream. From what I have seen, restaurants in urban cities of Asia have been doing automated ordering for years whereas here in Canada we have only recently embraced these technologies making them fairly new. Though culturally as a country we are not as open to it, because it is so new. I am not saying this won’t happen in the future, as it is slowly becoming more-so common. As a Canadian, I may just freak out if I have drones serving me in every restaurant I walk into. We are after all in a part of history where technology has become so imbedded in our daily lives and it is inevitable that the restaurant atmosphere will become driven by technology. When it will become mainstream? That is for the future to tell.
- Restaurant Technology Guide Foodable & Zenteach put together a great guide to some of the top names in restaurant tech services.
- A great Globe and Mail Article on transforming the restaurant experience.