Best in Tech
The pandemic forced two key trends into the spotlight—the need for technology and prioritization of consumer convenience.
In the past two years, a number of restaurants, large and small, have tested digital kiosks, robotic waiters, kitchen display systems, and more to cut costs and improve efficiency. Many of these vendors were on display at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, which brought in more than 50,000 onlookers across four days.
Check out these 13 tech products and solutions that operators are using to make the day-to-day grind easier for employees and customers.
GRUBBRR’s Digital Kiosk
The Samsung kiosk powered by GRUBBRR is equipped with a high-resolution touch display, speaker, printer, scanner, and payment solution. The software, which leverages upsell technology and loyalty integrations, has proven to increase revenue, decrease operating costs, and improve the customer experience.
BurgerFi, a fast casual with roughly 120 restaurants, ran a test of these kiosks for 120 days in four restaurants in which two out of three cash registers were replaced. The technology absorbed between 50 and 70 percent of orders, with a 30 to 50 percent upsell rate. Average check was 16 percent higher than orders taken by person.
Because of the positive impact, the chain is planning to roll out kiosks to the rest of its corporate locations.
Coca-Cola’s Freestyle Beverage Dispenser
At the National Restaurant Association Show, Coca-Cola debuted its Freestyle 8100, a back-of-house beverage dispenser that streamlines drink pouring for employees and reduced drive-thru wait times for customers.
The Freestyle machine comes with five main features:
POS Integration: The dispenser can automatically queue a guest’s total beverage order once it is keyed into the POS system without manual drink selection by a worker.
SmartPour Technology: This technology senses how much ice is in a cup and automatically stops pouring once the cup is full, regardless of ice amount or cup size.
New Design: The dispenser features a 24-inch HD display and touchscreen.
Improved Crew Operations: Using and maintaining the Freestyle 8100 is simpler, with a new user-friendly interface, easier access to inventory alerts, quicker diagnostics, improved ergonomics, and a simplified process for installing and changing out ingredients.
Beverage Variety: The 8100 offers 200-plus beverages across nine categories, including more than 100 low- and no-calorie options and over 90 caffeine-free choices—some of which are available exclusively through Freestyle.
Pepsi’s Quik Pick
Quik Pick is a next-generation vending machine enabled by computer vision technology that makes it fast and easy to grab drinks on the go.
Consumers just tap or swipe their card or mobile wallet to unlock the cooler, then pick out (or put back) as many drinks as they like. Once they shut the door, their card is charged, and they are ready to go.
Pepsi has experimented with 28 units for four months, and seen positive results:
1. Consumers loved that the process was “as easy as using their fridge at home” and the full selection of soft drink, energy, coffee, tea and hydration products.
2. Revenue was up 78 percent compared to sales of similar vending machines, driven by increased volume (+66 percent) and price (+7 percent).
3. Businesses appreciated the strong reliability, with over 99 percent product recognition accuracy, less than 3 percent product shrinkage, and limited service calls.
Restaurant365’s Manager Logbook
Restaurant365, an all-in-one cloud-based accounting, inventory, scheduling, payroll, and HR solution developed specifically for restaurants, has unveiled a host of innovations to ensure operators can adjust to the pandemic accordingly.
One of those is a new mobile-first Manager Logbook that enhances shift-to-shift communication by removing the need for handwritten notes. Managers can keep a record of customer concerns, personnel issues, vendor mishaps, and other events that impact the business digitally, allowing them to identify trends and leverage those insights to improve the business.
“The pandemic forced our industry to accelerate the adoption of technology at a record pace, leaping the equivalent of four years forward,” Mark Calvillo, senior vice president of product, said in a statement. “Our team took notice of how restaurant norms changed overnight, and we knew we had to keep pace by accelerating the advancement of our solutions. These latest innovations and enhancements will be of great value to our customers as they continue to optimize their post-pandemic operations.”
Forever Oceans’ Sustainable Technology
Forever Oceans, a sustainable seafood company, ocean-raises its fish up to 10 miles from shore through remote wireless technologies off the coasts of Panama, Brazil, and Indonesia.
The company constantly monitors the ocean environment to assure a healthy fish. Its technology even feeds the fish from containers aboard unmanned barges. The process reduces the company’s operational carbon footprint and enhances employee safety.
TRAY’s POS System
TRAY, the developer of a POS and restaurant management product that is compatible with multiple types of hardware and credit card processors, recently signed a multi-year deal with IHOP restaurants in the U.S.
According to the company, the new system will allow IHOP franchisees to implement more efficient training and include more up-to-date technology in their restaurants. Since TRAY uses Android-based hardware, operators save more and can rapidly convert with little disruption.
“We knew we had a great Enterprise solution for Family Entertainment Centers, which was our initial focus, but we didn’t have everything full-service and fast-casual restaurants needed,” Peter Kellis, TRAY’s founder and CEO, said in a statement. Over several years, working with the awesome team at DINE helped us perfect our offering. This new venture with IHOP confirms our technology and our ability to support major restaurant brands.”
Bear Robotics’ Self-Driving Robot
Bear Robotics provides restaurants with a self-driving robot that can carry 66 pounds and participate in food running, drink serving, and bussing. The machine can work up to 12 hours per day before its battery runs out, at a rate of $2.75 per hour or $33 per day. It’s controlled by an external tablet or an attached touchscreen.
Chili’s is currently experimenting with Bear Robotics’ product, and calls it Rita the Robot. After starting the test with 10 stores, the pilot recently expanded to 51 more restaurants across eight states. According to Wade Allen, Brinker International’s SVP of innovation, 77 percent of consumers said their server is spending more time with them because of Rita’s assistance.
Ledo Pizza recently announced that it’s testing Bear Robotics’ machine at its West Springfield, Virginia location. The Ledo Bot will help run carryout orders directly to the counter, allowing employees to focus more on engaging customers.
Punchh’s Integration with Yelp
The Yelp and Punchh integration connects a restaurants loyalty program and its front-of-house waitlist tool. Through this function, operators receive multiples pieces of consumer data, like loyalty tier, seating preferences, lifetime visits, and birthday and anniversary dates. This helps front-of-house staff deliver a more personalized experience and offer engaging promotions.
“We are thrilled to team up with Yelp to help restaurant brands deliver more engaging offers and personalized experiences that serve the needs of the modern restaurant guest,” Don Wight, president of Punchh, said in a statement. “Just like Punchh, Yelp continues to innovate and deliver products that provide a differentiated experience for concepts, while enhancing each phase of the customer journey.”
Lunchbox’s Rails Platform
Lunchbox, an growing online ordering solution, recently released Lunchbox Rails, a product that consolidates all third-party delivery ordering information into one POS system.
Here are the main features:
1. Real-time menu editing: Third-party menus and pricing are updated in real time, including removed items, every time the POS updates.
2. Automated business hours: Business and seasonal hours are automatically uploaded to third-party marketplaces.
3. Smart menu structures: Configure the menu inside the POS system for any third-party delivery website.
4. Direct orders to POS: All orders are downloaded automatically into the POS.
5. Configure unique prices across multiple menus: Restaurants can make changes to a menu item without impacting other platforms.
6. Global throttling: Operators can control how many orders can be placed based on volume, dollars spent during a given time, or on a store-by-store basis.
“Restaurants need to make quick changes, keep track of orders, and manage everything in one place. We’ve created the solution that eases the pain that all operators are experiencing today by streaming in-store operations and reducing tablet hell,” Nabeel Alamgir, co-founder and CEO of Lunchbox, said in a statement. “With Rails, operators will gain valuable time back and be able to concentrate on delivering the best guest experience.”
sunday’s QR Code Payment Solution
sunday offers a tech solution that allows customers to scan a QR code, pay, and leave without interaction from staff. Guests only need an internet connection—no app or account is required—and can use either their physical bank card or virtual wallet, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc. Splitting the bill is also intuitive and seamless. And while customers pay their bill, they encounter predefined tipping choices that they can select with just a tap.
Each code is unique to a table and based off the dining room setup, making it easier for staff to manage and track. Also, bills are updated automatically, and payments appear in the POS system in real time. sunday’s data shows 80 percent of consumers opt to pay by QR code, which saves an average of 15 minutes per check, allowing for operational efficiencies, increased table turns, and better profitability.
SevenRooms’ Guest Experience and Retention Platform
SevenRoom’s Guest Experience and Retention Platform offers operators a 360-view of customers across on-premises and off-premises dining. The full suite of products includes reservation, waitlist, and table management, online ordering, review aggregation, and marketing automation.
Founded in 2011, the company has partnered with notable brands in hotel, entertainment, and restaurants, including Outback parent Bloomin’ Brands, Topgolf, Wolfgang Puck, and MGM Resorts International.
One good example is In Good Company Hospitality, A New York City-based entity overseeing 12 brands. Prior to partnering with SevenRooms, each restaurant had its own database, preventing sister concepts from identifying repeat customers within the entire portfolio. However, with the tech company’s platform, In Good Company unified data across all venues and used available tools to monitor allergies, drink preferences, and more across each location. Through POS integration, the hospitality concept can also access order and spend history.
QSR Automations’ ConnectSmart Platform
QSR Automations’ ConnectSmart Platform leverages kitchen automation, guest management, off-premises technology, and predictive analytics to deliver operational efficiency.
More specifically, the company’s kitchen display systems help back-of-house teams cut ticket times, automatically transfer data between stations without employees having to yell or run, take in off-premises and dine-in orders without conflict, and gain a full picture of performance to identify areas of improvement.
Walk-On’s, which has partnered with QSR Automations for a few years now, said it was running average ticket times of 18-25 minutes, but used the kitchen display systems to cut 6 to 7 minutes off of that. Michael Turner, senior vice president of culinary and supply chain, also estimated a 50 percent increase in food quality.
In October 2021, QSR Automations opened its new global headquarters and tech campus in Louisville, Kentucky. The $10 million investment added 50 jobs to the community and provided a creative hub for all departments to collaborate.
Toast’s Enhanced Ordering Platform
Toast unveiled a host of enhancements at the show, namely around mobile ordering, payments, and digital menu solutions. The goal being to lower the barrier to entry for brands to adopt mobile-first, guest-led tech in today’s labor climate, the company said.
Now, customers can scan QR codes to browse the menu, order, and pay from their mobile devices. Toast layered in updates around server-started ordering, where employees and guests can start and add to a tab and customizable digital menus by service area (like the patio, takeout window, and full table service). Additionally, Toast said it’s Digital Menus and Mobile Payments updates are now included within its traditional POS at no extra cost.
The Mobile Dining Solutions suite enables guests at sit-down spots to no longer wait on servers to add to their order or checkout. Users at quick-serves can skip the line and order. Toast said restaurants of all categories and sizes will be able to bump sales and tips, collect data on each transaction, and navigate the labor shortage with a more efficient service model. They can also introduce more dynamic menus and pricing in the face of rising supply costs and inflation.