Recent innovations drive big shifts in foodservice.

Technology has solidified its role as an integral part of the restaurant experience. Innovative restaurant tech is eliminating customers’ pain points and keeping diners coming back for more. 

And while in-person visits to restaurants are declining, electronic orders have tripled over the last five years. In 2016, orders placed online or with an app officially surpassed those placed via phone. To cater to these demands, restaurants are turning to new technologies to tackle the challenges of serving up accurate and efficient orders. Whether it be through omni-channel payments, delivery innovation or dining room tech, the restaurant industry is embracing the digital revolution and all it has to offer.

Directly to Digital  

The time it takes between a customer getting their bill to them actually walking out the door can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the venue. While waiters in Europe have used portable credit card readers for more than 20 years to help speed up the payment process, the U.S. has been slower to catch on to this trend.

However, some restaurants are skipping the portable credit reader altogether and going directly to digital.

In some establishments, servers bring touch screen tablets to the customer, completing transactions for them directly at the table. Others use tabletop technology to enhance the dining experience – empowering customers to do everything from paying their bill to ordering dessert without waiting on a server.

But customers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits.

A 2016 report found that when customers used a tablet to order and pay in a full-service dining restaurant, they spent an average of $3.61 more and got out the door almost 20 minutes faster. This means reduced table turnaround times, giving restaurants the opportunity to get more people in the door.

Restaurants are also partnering with mobile apps, such as Qkr!, Split, and Cake, to allow customers to easily pay or split their bill directly from their smartphones. But for those not ready to make the tech jump, customers are taking things into their own hands.

The app Splitwise lets people settle bill-splitting themselves, eliminating the stress of wondering if the server will split the check or scrambling to figure out how to divide everything up. The organizational tool allows customers to make a single payment for the bill and pay each other back later. This can save time for both diners and servers in processing a group’s payment.

It’s not just splitting the bill where payment-processing tech comes in—other apps have tech for lessening wait times before and after your meal.

The app TabbedOut noted that waiting for the bill is essentially just like standing in a line. More than 500 bars and restaurants use the app, which allows for customers to pay the bill at their own convenience, even if it’s on the drive home. All the customer has to do is notify their server, and they can pay their bill at the restaurant or have the app close it automatically after they leave.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

No longer is delivery limited to just pizza chains and Asian food. Today, more than 80 percent of publicly traded restaurant chains—not even including pizza—are testing delivery options.

To stay competitive, restaurants may want to start thinking about delivery. However, that may be easier said than done.

To implement a full-service internal delivery system, restaurants have to consider organizing staff, paying for insurance, and budgeting tip outs—something not always attainable for small to mid-size businesses. To combat that, restaurants often outsource delivery to services like Grubhub or UberEATS, which provide solutions to handle online ordering, tracking and the delivery itself.

While some restaurants may feel that offering delivery hurts the authenticity of their business or that the quality of food will suffer, that doesn’t have to be the case. Denny’s tackled the issue when they spent two years developing innovative take-out boxes and plates, keeping food fresh and ensuring a smooth delivery.

Another pain point of delivery or take out is talking on the phone. The rise of online ordering and chatbots has allowed customers to order and receive their food with little-to-no human interaction. Some restaurants even allow customers to place orders through an Amazon Echo or a smart TV.

Other restaurants have hopped on the social media ordering trend, too. In February, Facebook rolled out an “order food” button in its main navigation, bringing the ordering experience directly onto the social platform. TGI Friday’s is also embracing this trend; it recently became the first national bar and grill to accept orders via Twitter DMs.

Dine and Dash?

Some of the most commonly recognized tech in finer dining rooms are food buzzers, or restaurant pagers. They’ve been around more than 20 years but are finally becoming outdated. Why pay for a pricey device, and its maintenance, when customers are already carrying one of their own?

Considering almost 90 percent of Americans have unlimited texting and many have nearly-unlimited phone call minutes, many restaurants now turn to platforms such as Table’s Ready to send customers a text or an automated call when it’s time to be seated. This doesn’t restrict the distance diners can venture from the waiting area the way buzzers do, giving customers the freedom to grab a drink or leave and come back.

Other restaurants are going directly to apps. More than 42,000 restaurants use OpenTable across more than 20 countries. OpenTable’s latest integration, DineTime, lets diners check the status of wait times via the app.

No matter the type of dining space, restaurant tech will continue to grow. But will restaurants be able to keep up with their increasingly tech-savvy customers?

One study found that six-year-olds have about the same understanding of communications technology as the average 45-year-old. Growing up as true digital natives, it only makes sense that the restaurant industry will have to rapidly advance to meet the needs of the next generation of diners.

From online delivery to innovative payment processing, the restaurant tech space is rapidly evolving. Only by embracing the change will restaurants be able to not just meet, but also exceed the expectations of their diners. 

Expert Takes, Feature