I have always believed that members of management, at all levels, should be customers of their brand. It is invaluable to experience your restaurant as your guests do. You should be served the way your guests are served, from the beginning to the end of the dining occasion. You should taste your products the way that the guest enjoys them—not in a perfect test kitchen environment, but in the dining room, the car, the office, or at home. By the way, when you sample in the dining room, please bus your own table. That is part of the guest experience as well!  

The benefit of personally experiencing the guest journey is more important than ever for understanding the role of technology along the path. With the emphasis these days on digital transactions, I am struck by the backseat it often takes when management visits a restaurant. While touring locations, how often does a brand representative place an online or app order in advance of their arrival? I am sure it happens, but I suspect it occurs far less than the proportion of digital orders for many restaurant brands.

While the personal experience of a brand executive will inform their perspective and decisions regarding technology, they should be mindful that their point of view is not the only one. It is also not likely to be the most important one. Operators and marketers alike are cognizant of the fact that not all guests view their dining experience the same way. We recognize that cultural and generational influences lead to differing opinions regarding the relative importance of brand attributes and performance measures. Such considerations are taken into account when crafting menus and the advertising that promotes them. Brand CEOs that weigh their own opinion greater than the preponderance of their guests are at risk of leading their brand astray. 

This applies to perspectives on technology as much, if not more, than other aspects of the guest experience. I have always been intrigued by the thought that, from a relatively finite point in time, people born into this world are wired differently than the generations that preceded them. They have interacted with technology at points in their lives that they will never remember. Try as I might, I don’t think it is possible to see and interpret the world the way they do. With every passing day, the tech savvy generations become a larger segment of the population, and hence our prospective customer base. 

As we integrate technology into our brands, we need to make sure that we take a holistic approach to understanding these upcoming generations. And as we strive to integrate technology on the assumption that the majority of younger groups will embrace the effort, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that technology is just a part of the guest experience. In our organization, it’s important for us to understand the value that our digital efforts bring to the guest experience. Technology should enhance the occasion from the guest perspective, not create friction. Let’s never forget that, in the end, restaurant brands ultimately win or lose primarily on the merits of their organic experience in the restaurants. Understanding the relative importance of your brand attributes is paramount—even among the tech lovers, the bite may still trump the byte.  

Fast Casual, Outside Insights, Story, Technology, Firehouse Subs