Restaurant Leaders See Tech, Value as 2023’s Biggest Trends

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Andrea Behrends
For the tech of it

Out of the industry’s ongoing recovery and into 2023, we tossed a wrinkle into this year’s predictions. In addition to asking experts for their best crystal ball attempt at next year’s biggest headline, they were also posed with the following: “What role do you see technology playing?” It’s no great mystery why such a query matters. What’s more intriguing, though, is trying to understand where pandemic-ignited solutions fit into an ever-evolving definition of foodservice. Are dine-in customers clamoring for tech? How much is too much? Where will it boost experience and where will it detract?

Let’s dive in.

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18 Predictions for the Future of Restaurants

20 Restaurant Leaders Share Their Predictions for 2023

22 Fast-Food Trends to Watch in 2023

What’s the Next Big Tech Trend for Restaurants? Here’s What the Experts Say

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Scott Lawton, CEO and cofounder, bartaco

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

It will be protecting margins without gouging the guests. As guests become more price sensitive, it will become even more challenging to hold margins with rising food and labor costs. Efficiency in your labor model as well as your product utilization will become key factors in holding on to EBITDA.

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology will play an ever increasing role in helping operators manage these challenges. Things like predictive prep lists, dynamic pricing, smart KDS, and digital ordering will all become essential tools to maximize profit.

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Black Bear Diner
Black Bear Diner
Anita Adams, president, Black Bear Diner

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

With persistent inflation impacting guests, restaurant operators need to continue to focus on providing value throughout the entire guest experience. The value proposition for Black Bear Diner is equal parts hospitality, ambiance and abundant all-American comfort food. 

What role do you see technology playing?

One positive aspect of the pandemic was it forced the industry to further embrace technology—Black Bear Diner included. We have now pivoted toward thinking of ourselves as a technology-based restaurant brand and turning our attention to making significant changes to our IT stack that will not only provide us greater flexibility to service the restaurant of the future, but also create efficiencies for our team members while still providing the unique hospitality our guests love.

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Checkers & Rally's
Checkers restaurant.
Frances Allen, CEO, Checkers & Rally’s

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

As consumers increasingly lean towards speed, quality and convenience, brands will continue to embrace the drive-thru model. Restaurants with an efficient drive-thru are enabled to serve more guests quicker with less staff required, increasing throughput and sales while saving on labor costs. This model can also require a smaller footprint, providing more real estate selection for operators and creating an easier development process. 

In addition, we believe restaurants will place more emphasis on employee culture and retention. Team members are at the core of every successful restaurant, and their value is immeasurable. As brands grapple with lingering labor shortages, operators should continue to invest in employee-focused initiatives to improve their day-to-day tasks and build brand loyalty. For example, at Checkers & Rally’s, we recently introduced voice activated automated intelligence at the drive thru as well as our Fit Kitchen interior remodel, both of which are helping to reduce multi-tasking, alleviate stress and make employees jobs more doable and enjoyable.

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology will continue to play a key role in advancing restaurant operations and the guest experience in 2023. Challenges such as inflation and the labor shortage will remain prevalent, and technology will act as a lifeline for those brands leveraging the right tools to operate efficiently under thin margins, while improving the employee experience through things like voice activated automated intelligence at the drive-thru.

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Romano's Macaroni Grill
Nishant Machado, president and CEO, Dividend Restaurant Group

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?    

As we look toward 2023, much of the conversation will revolve around revenue—which has already made its way into mainstream discussions in 2022—and how it will positively or negatively influence the restaurant industry. It is causing many to keep a close eye on which way the pendulum will swing next year. 

What role do you see technology playing?

We have witnessed the evolution of technology through the years—especially its impact in the restaurant industry. In 2023, it will continue to play a larger role as companies look to regain margin erosion from the previous year and aim to drive efficiencies.

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Dutch Bros.
Dutch Bros. coffee.
Joth Ricci, CEO, Dutch Bros.

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

I think the biggest topic in 2023 will be how the labor market continues to evolve and settle from the behavior disruption of the last three years. I think turnover will remain at higher levels until we see a stabilization in the unemployment rate. In addition, costs to attract and retain will grow due to inflationary pressure. Companies and leaders will need to navigate these challenges and changes and put culture at the forefront to help attract and maintain an incredible workforce.

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology is on a rapid expansion of consumerization and will continue to have an impact on virtually everything the industry and the consumer touches. From Cybersecurity to POS to consumer interface it is impacting and enhancing everything we do.

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First Watch
First Watch
Matthew Eisenacher, SVP Brand Strategy & Innovation, First Watch

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

2023 will be about what brands are doing to thrive, despite a difficult environment. Consumers aren’t going to be promiscuous with their dollars or seek out new and different places; They’re going to frequent brands they trust. Brands that offer value and consistently deliver on the fundamentals of hospitality will undoubtedly do well. The strong will get stronger.

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology will continue to be a tool to create a more immersive customer experience, regardless of whether consumers choose to dine in-restaurant or off-premises. Successful technology in the restaurant space reduces friction for consumers and elevates, rather than replaces, hospitality. When brands introduce technology that enhances the in-restaurant experience, reduces friction and meets customers where they are, that’s a win.

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Fogo de Chão
Fogo de Chão customers.
Barry McGowan, CEO, Fogo de Chão

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

With inflation and a looming recession on the horizon, one of the biggest topics in 2023 will be what brands can do to attract new guests while facing higher costs in a tight labor market. At Fogo de Chão, we will continue to reinvest in the guest experience by providing them with the same experience they expect at the same amazing value. We will add more value to the everyday experience by offering premium, high-quality cuts at zero additional costs for our guests, whether that’s Lamb Picanha, Bone-in Ribeye or Porterhouse. And that value extends to all dayparts including $15 Weekday Lunch, All Day Happy Hour and more.   

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology has no doubt played a major role in shaping the restaurant industry in recent years, and we don’t anticipate that trajectory slowing down in 2023. From menu innovation, QR codes and even pay-at-the-table options, we at Fogo have already implemented these and more at our restaurants. Our goal—and every operator’s goal next year—is to create an even more seamless and frictionless experience for our guests, while still maintaining our unique and engaging dining experience.

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Adobe Stock
Kitchen equipment.
Tim McLaughlin, CEO and cofounder, GoTab

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

In 2023, restaurants will continue to invest in on-premise technology as they realize the potential for digital to improve operations and the guest experience in-house. This includes implementing tools like QR code-enabled mobile ordering as well as tab management, which allow guests a faster and easier way to order, reorder and pay without having to go through the hassle of flagging down a server. Not only does this empower guests with the ability to curate their own dining experience, but it also eliminates extra steps for employees so that they can focus on making meaningful interactions with guests and ultimately build brand loyalty.

We also think kitchen management will be a big point of emphasis in 2023, as operators search for ways to improve back-of-house communication and operations. This includes implementing digital communication channels that flow from floor to kitchen and utilizing voice-automated Kitchen Display Systems (KDS) to streamline tasks, avoid errors and enhance the quality of food and service.

Overall, we believe technology will guide the modern-day dining experience in 2023, and those who don’t prioritize their digital solutions to enhance guest and team member experiences will be left behind.

What role do you see technology playing?

Technology will play a critical role in the dining experience in 2023. As consumers continue to expect speed, accuracy and convenience, restaurants that leverage digital solutions that give guests complete control over their dining experience, including the ability to order, reorder and checkout on their own, will succeed.

Moving forward, technology will also infill the need for hybrid service models, giving operators the tools to adapt as they encounter peaks and valleys in demand based on the economic environment and local trends. Solutions that work together on an open platform will further simplify this process, ensuring tools are working together with shared data to improve overall operations. For example, this year we launched EasyTab, a feature that leverages customers’ mobile devices to bridge traditional service and empower guests by making opening, closing, reordering, and transferring tabs from bar to table fast, easy and hassle-free. As outside pressures persist, this type of flexible technology will be a game changer for operators.

In addition, in-house technology will be crucial to improving in-house communication among team members. Most communication today remains face-to-face, wasting valuable time for employees and disrupting the guest experience. For example, if the kitchen runs out of a menu item, the chef typically informs a team member who has to inform everyone else on the floor like a game of telephone. Oftentimes, an employee has already sold that item before they receive the update that it’s out of stock. The solution? Brands must utilize software that provides an efficient channel to share communications digitally across back- and front-of-house, such as an 86 button on the POS, to eliminate operational friction and improve the guest experience in one click. Similarly, technology advancements will always remain top of mind for operators. For us, that looks like a KDS system that speaks to team members rather than having updates flash across a screen, but we also anticipate consumers continued interest in drone delivery, automated tech, and more.

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Portillo's hot dog.
Garrett Kern, Vice President, Strategy & Culinary, Portillo’s

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

Attracting top talent will continue to be a major area of focus in the restaurant and hospitality industries in 2023. Brands will need to continue to think about the full rewards package to attract the right teams, by investing in benefits and programs that reward positive performance and enable career growth. Portillo’s will continue to focus on delivering an unrivaled team member experience, in part by treating its team members like family and building a strong, values-based work culture. This commitment to culture and values is what has allowed Portillo’s to be fully staffed and see industry-leading turnover rates.

What role do you see technology playing?

In 2023, technology will continue to play a key role in supporting and upgrading existing systems that make operations more efficient for team members and provide more value to restaurant guests. At Portillo’s, we believe that any technology we bring into our restaurants should help us consistently deliver an unrivaled guest experience and make things easier for our teams.

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George Wetz, COO and cofounder, Yumpingo

What do you think the biggest topic of 2023 will be?

When it comes to restaurant customer satisfaction, Yumpingo found that speed of service—including the perception of extended wait times to get food or drinks, as well as the speed and attentiveness of servers—was one of the main factors that negatively impacted guest sentiment in 2022. The company’s data, which factors in feedback from hundreds of thousands of guests across operators and channels in both the U.S. and the U.K., also showed that guest sentiment around ordering processes has improved since mid-year, and while the cost of a meal remains top of mind for diners, fewer guests felt dining out was ‘too expensive’ in the back half of the year. Yumpingo anticipates all of these topics will remain priorities for operators and guests in 2023.

What role do you see technology playing in 2023?

Heading into 2023, we expect more restaurants to incorporate technology that allows their teams to operate more efficiently and provide better food and service to guests. As consumers opt to enjoy their food beyond the dining room via the channels that are most convenient to them, we believe technology that allows operators to meaningfully engage with guests off-premises will become increasingly beneficial to create a consistently positive experience.