This past year was a big one for advancements in restaurant technology. From partnerships bringing reservation and search & discovery platforms together, to the increased utilization of guest data and data security, 2018 brought many new opportunities to integrate technology into the restaurant experience. What was once a siloed industry has become more open and connected over the past year, with operators placing a priority on strategically integrating technology into their operations.

With that being said, integrating technology in a way that creates and enhances a memorable and personalized experience is going to be the key to success in 2019. Below are my thoughts on what the upcoming year will look like for restaurant operators amidst its tech transformation.

Amazon spent 2018 making Alexa a staple in homes across the country, with people using the voice technology to do everything from turning on lights to finding a recipe for dinner. And, with a recent study citing that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, this trend isn’t slowing down.

Most notably this year, voice capabilities extended beyond the home to the hospitality sector, enabling guests to find local businesses and services, make dinner reservations, check the weather and access other amenities from the comfort of their hotel room.

This coming year will bring voice tech to restaurant operators as well. In fact, SevenRooms recently announced a planned integration with Alexa and investment by Amazon to bring voice-enabled tools to the in-service experience. Think, “Hey Alexa, where are my VIP guests sitting tonight?” or “Hey Alexa, do any of my tables have a peanut allergy?” The applications of voice technology are far-reaching, helping restaurant staff to communicate more easily, keep track of guests more seamlessly and as a result, provide a better experience to all diners.

Handling more than 2 trillion searches per year, it should come as no surprise that search platforms like Google are playing an increasing role in how guests discover and book a restaurant reservation. Add to this the rise in popularity of social media platforms like Instagram, with over 1 billion users worldwide, and these channels can no longer be ignored as discovery and acquisition channels for restaurants. 

Historically, search and discovery platforms have been siloed from booking intent, making it impossible to book a restaurant reservation without opening a separate platform. This changed in 2018, with search platforms like Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, now allowing diners to make reservations directly across these channels.

 In the year ahead, technology operators are focused on streamlining the reservation process to allow diners to book while in discovery mode – driving reservations while guests are already engaged with the restaurant. Restaurants utilizing these platforms will see an increase in reservations and sales across the board.

In 2018, we saw the restaurant industry take a look at other industries and start to adopt more of those advanced marketing strategies—from paid social and SEM to marketing automation—into their day-to-day. But this industry still has a long way to go in catching up to other industries like retail and travel in the sophistication of their marketing tactics.

An internal restaurant marketing research report at SevenRooms revealed that in 2018, almost 64 percent of restaurants use third-party email service providers to send event invites, and 56 percent sent out holiday promotions to their guest database. But with 79 percent of consumers saying they are only likely to engage with an offer if it’s been personalized based on a previous interaction, restaurateurs should be taking a hard look at their marketing strategies to see where they can improve processes that prioritize guest experience.

When engaging guests, hyper-segmentation of your marketing list can bring old-school email marketing tactics into the present. From sending birthday emails to guests inviting them in for their favorite appetizer on the house, to only reaching out to your wine-drinking customers with an upcoming tasting event, there are endless ways to slice and dice your database to personalize the guest experience.

Marketing begins and ends with data, and operators are uniquely positioned to track and capture endless data on their guests — if they have the right tools in place. But it’s not enough to just track guest behavior. Savvy operators know that when they have technology in place to execute on their programs effectively, they’ll win that customer for life by engaging with them at a variety of touchpoints to enhance the guest experience.

If there was one word that businesses big and small obsessed over in 2018, it was security. With GDPR taking effect last spring and plans for the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2019, every company collecting personal and transactional data has prioritized the protection of that information. Guest data is imperative to future success—from understanding which marketing channels are most effective, to how much of a specific ingredient to order for next week’s menu. However, restaurants have to implement the right strategies to keep this information safe and in the correct hands. These include:

  • Training all employees who handle data
  • Choosing the right vendor to host your guest data
  • Understanding the type of data being collected

Looking ahead, the industry’s focus on data security will only increase in 2019. Restaurant guests recently reported that 34 percent would not return if a data breach occurred during their visit, highlighting the need for restaurants to elevate their security and payment options when considering new solutions.

While 2018 brought new innovation to the restaurant industry, 2019 will be the year of connectivity. Technology will meet convenience and personalization in ways we have yet to see, creating more seamless ways to connect systems and processes across both front and back of house. As a result, restaurants as a whole will need to shift their focus away from a siloed approach toward a more connected overall process. One thing that won’t change? Hospitality is a people business at heart, and no amount of technology will ever replace the value of a happy guest.

Joel Montaniel is the CEO & Co-Founder of SevenRooms, where he leads business strategy and sales. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as the Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. from Georgetown University.

Expert Takes, Slideshow, Technology