The foodservice industry has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The flattop grill, deep fryer, and milkshake mixer alone won’t cut it in a modern restaurant. These days, if you don’t have integrated delivery service providers, customer-relationship management platforms, and mobile-order-and-pay capabilities, you won’t have any guests to enjoy the burger, fries, and shake.
Indeed, restaurants are now a high-tech business. And that’s truer than ever in the COVID-19 crisis, as a flood of technological innovations have helped operators keep the lights on, particularly by uploading brand operations into the digital world. It became a common refrain among restaurant executives that three years’ worth of innovation was condensed into the first three months of the pandemic, and while hardship certainly persists and questions about the pandemic’s duration remain, operators now have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to technological tools available to them.
With that in mind, here are our 10 favorite new tools that have emerged in the last two years that are offering restaurants a unique leg up in the middle of the crisis.
Crew-Facing: Delaget Coach
Clients: Franchisees for Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, IHOP, Long John Silver’s
How it works: Let’s face it: For as helpful as new technologies are in making the restaurant operation more efficient, they can also add layers of complexities and data silos that become overwhelming for an operator to keep up with. Delaget Coach is a business intelligence tool that consolidates data from several technologies in one place, allowing the operator to manage performance against company goals for things like sales, labor, and food costs all in one place. Users can customize their dashboard to spotlight their priorities, drill down for specific data points, and gain clarity on performance at the company, area, and location levels.
COVID consideration: Managing restaurants was already complex before the pandemic, but as companies were forced to accommodate new operational realities due to COVID-19, they were saddled with even more metrics to follow. Having an all-encompassing tool like Delaget Coach relieves some of that pressure and ultimately helps the operator make better business decisions; one customer reported a 14.6 percent reduction in cost of sales and 58 percent reduction in food waste by using the tool—not to mention time savings of about 2 hours per day.
Crew-Facing: Squadle’s Sense Thermal Scanner
How it works: The scanner is a small, wall-mounted device that uses thermal cameras and other temperature sensors to conduct contactless temperature screenings for employees or even guests. Screenings take less than 1 second, and the scanner alerts the manager if a screening produces an above-normal temperature. The scanner also integrates with Squadle’s self-check apps and Checklists safety platform, both of which track employee health and help prevent sick workers from coming into the restaurant.
COVID consideration: Clearly, employee health is imperative during the pandemic. Not only do restaurants want to keep their employees safe, but also, the risk of infecting customers is not one any restaurant wants to take. Operators are looking for any technologies that can help them maintain health for both employees and for guests.
Crew-Facing: Hypersonix’s AI-Powered Autonomous Analytics Platform
Clients: Corner Bakery, Veggie Grill, Red Mango, Smoothie Factory
How it works: Artificial intelligence (ai) is quickly permeating every aspect of the restaurant business. The Hypersonix AI-Powered Autonomous Analytics Platform leverages AI to help operators make sense of their data and enhance their decision-making process. The platform automates the ingestion and understanding of data, applies sophisticated algorithms to understand the data and what to do about it, and then, using purpose-built applications to solve for use cases like forecasting and price optimization, communicates insights to operators very simply by answering verbal or text questions—like Alexa or Google for your quick-serve enterprise, according to the company.
COVID consideration: The COVID crisis has forced the restaurant industry to adapt to new challenges on a daily basis. Whether it’s optimizing operating hours or strategically managing cost changes, the Hypersonix platform offers timely recommendations for businesses to navigate these challenges while also keeping their businesses afloat.
Crew-Facing: DailyPay’s PayEx
Clients: Boston Market, Buona, Captain D’s, Fazoli’s, Pizza Ranch; franchisees for McDonald’s, Panera, Domino’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut
How it works: PayEx offers restaurant brands a contactless payment platform that helps them build trust with their employees. It includes four tools: PAY gives employees access to on-demand pay for hours they’ve already worked; SAVE lets them earmark their money for savings; CYCLE simplifies the paycheck disbursement process by eliminating paycheck processing and delivery time; and REWARD gives employers the ability to send financial rewards to employees digitally in real time, including tips and bonuses.
COVID consideration: Labor was tough on the restaurant industry even before the pandemic. And these days, with many employees hesitant to return to the workforce, an incentive like 24/7, on-demand pay is a great way to recruit and retain quality workers. But PayEx also gives employees financial peace of mind during a highly anxious time, not to mention a safer way to earn money via the contactless, paperless platform.
Crew-Facing: Franke Foodservice Systems’ Transporter
How it works: The Transporter conveyor system offers a contactless way for restaurants to transport food from a prep area to the customer, whether he or she is at the counter, in the drive thru, or picking up at a walk-up window. The continuously running conveyor takes food from one station quickly to another, whether that’s from one assembly area to another or from the assembly area to the guest. The first iteration of the product included a bag-and-clip design, but an updated offering now features a carrier basket. The Transporter can be configured to the restaurant’s unique spacing needs.
COVID consideration: Restaurants all over the U.S. are reconsidering their footprints in the wake of the pandemic due to the explosion in off-premises business. Brands today are thinking about things like smaller dining rooms, bigger kitchens, and multiple ordering points like curbside pickup, drive-thru lanes, or walk-up windows. A conveyor system like the Transporter can accommodate these innovative new layouts while also limiting the amount of contact between employee and food and employee and customer.
Customer-Facing: Cerberus’s Atlas Empires
How it works: Remember the Pokemon Go craze a few years back? Atlas Empires is similarly a location-based game that encourages game play through “missions” to participating merchants, which earn them currency in the game. Restaurants can track every player who opts into one of their missions and track it to a purchase, and they can even track the amount spent so they can offer real-time rewards according to dollars spent. All of it adds up to a fun marketing tool that can drive guest frequency and even higher check averages.
COVID consideration: The pandemic has driven people deeper into virtual worlds, and a smartphone-based game could be the perfect solution to engage with loyal fans in the digital realm outside of social media. And if there’s a surge in on-premises restaurant visits once the pandemic is behind us, a reward-based game could be just the incentive that stir-crazy guests need to visit your establishment.
Customer-Facing: Bluedot’s Geofencing Technology
How it works: Drive-thru operators had long discussed the potential of mobile ordering in the outdoor lane before it became a reality in the last few years. Key to making it work? Geo-fencing technology that could line up food prep with the customer’s arrival at the pickup window. Bluedot’s technology draws virtual boundaries around the restaurant to detect when the customer enters the drive thru, which ensures proper order sequencing and reduces wait times. The technology can even differentiate between walk-in, curbside, and drive-thru customers, allowing the restaurant to provide better convenience and flexibility.
COVID consideration: Two trends have accelerated in the last eight months that will redefine restaurants as we know them: off-premises dining and mobile ordering. With more people engaging with restaurants from their phones and expecting to not leave their cars at the pickup point, geofencing technology like Bluedot provides the connective tissue that can facilitate a seamless transaction both for the restaurant and the guest.
Customer-Facing: Speechmorphing’s Personalized, Expressive, Cross-Lingual Natural Language Speech Synthesis
How it works: This tool creates more natural, human-like voices for AI personas representing restaurants through, say, a drive-thru speaker box. Speechmorphing’s advanced tech creates a voice according to the client’s desired style and tone, giving the restaurant the ability to shape a unique brand persona as well as brand continuity, while also enhancing the customer interaction.
COVID consideration: Drive-thru business has exploded during the pandemic, and is unlikely to subside; even fast casuals and full-service brands plan to invest more in drive-thru windows. AI in the drive thru could streamline operations, but employing an artificial order-taker comes with the risk of sounding robotic, clunky, and generic. Speechmorphing removes that risk and gives restaurants the ability to shape a branded voice that they can consistently use across a multiunit system.
Customer-Facing: Aircharge’s Aircharge+
Clients: McDonald’s, LEON
How it works: Mobile ordering doesn’t have to be an off-premises tool alone; operators are increasingly leveraging the technology in-store, as well, as a contactless order-and-pay solution. Aircharge+ gives quick-serve and full-serve operators alike that opportunity, as the digital table marker uses near-field communication (NFC) to communicate with the customer’s device, turning the device into an all-encompassing engagement tool that lets the guest review the menu, order, pay, access discounts and promotions, leave feedback, and even charge their battery. It can also interface with the brand’s order-ahead app, allowing the guest to order before arriving and checking in through the table marker.
COVID consideration: Contactless is the name of the game in our post-pandemic world, and restaurants have a range of new tools available to them that make their customer experience as touchless and frictionless as possible. The Aircharge+ product is one such product and could give customers the kind of flexibility they’re looking for in future restaurant experiences.
Customer-Facing: GRUBBRR’s Self-Ordering Kiosk
Clients: Panda Express, Diced, Sus Hi Eatstation, Big Mamma’s Burritos
How it works: The Self-Ordering Kiosk is a device that puts the ordering experience into the customer’s hands. Guests interact with the device and not an employee, and it personalizes the experience through algorithmically calculated suggestions. The kiosks connect with the restaurant’s ecosystem, and pair with a kitchen display and order progress board. GRUBBRR reports that the kiosks significantly decrease wait times for customers while increasing average ticket size by 12–22 percent due to the opportunity for upselling.
COVID consideration: One big wildcard through the pandemic has been labor. Not only are some people hesitant to return to work for fear of getting sick, but also, operators have to train employees more enhanced sanitation measures while also ensuring that workers aren’t bringing any germs into the restaurant with them. The Self-Ordering Kiosk removes all of these concerns by replacing the employee with a device that can more accurately relay guests’ orders.