As common as the term “smart technology” has become, it seems the definition and context change by the day as new innovations emerge. First, “smart” is not just a convenient adjective; it’s also an acronym for self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology. And an increasing number of restaurants are leveraging such technologies.

“It’s all about creating a more frictionless experience, not just for the customer, but also for restaurant management,” says Jim Mizes, president and CEO of Blaze Pizza.

The investment in smart technology appears to be worthwhile; 79 percent of diners agree that restaurant technology improves the guest experience, according to a survey by point-of-sale provider Toast. In fact, 57 percent of respondents order from restaurant websites on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and 68 percent of diners feel that servers’ hand-held devices improve the guest experience.

The smart device to rule them all

With people of all ages glued to their phones, it makes sense for start-ups and cloud-based platform providers to leverage smartphones as the main hardware for their software. More quick serves are eschewing kiosks and even tabletop tablets in favor of simple-to-use, seamlessly integrated apps.

“Before we invested in a new app, we had a discussion about using kiosks, but we decided that the most up-to-date technology we have is actually our phones,” says Ryan Murrin, vice president of marketing and franchise development for Pancheros. The brand uses a combination of Olo’s mobile-enabled, integrated ordering and delivery platform and Punchh for its customer data collection and loyalty program with roughly 300,000 users.

In addition to serving as a mobile-ordering platform, the program can also alert customers to news, LTOs, and other announcements in what Murrin describes as a great marketing channel in its own right. The app will even send alerts with menu highlights and other information to new customers or those who haven’t visited in a while—all without any manual intervention.

Blaze Pizza has also partnered with Punchh for its revamped loyalty program this year, and the chain worked with another solution provider to relaunch its mobile-ordering app back in September on the heels of a complete redesign of the restaurant’s website.

“Our previous online ordering platform we initiated six years ago was much clunkier and didn’t have the ability to connect with third-party delivery services,” Mizes says. “Last year, right after the upgrade, we saw a 150 percent increase in online orders, and already this year we’re up 30 percent over the highest point of last year.”

Many other brands are finding success by incorporating mobile-ordering platforms that include an integrated, data-collection backend. This can especially help customers better connect with the restaurant; by including a prep-time stamp that both the customer and back of the house can see, customers know what their potential wait time is at any given time and staff has a more efficient flow in the kitchen.

Speak now

Once reserved for home use, voice-activated technology has now entered restaurants. According to The Platform Economy Playbook series, a PYMNTS and Yapstone collaboration, 11 percent of consumers with voice assistants make food purchases using that tool.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit uses voice-enabled technology in the back of the house so managers and pit masters can get information while cooking without taking off their gloves and logging onto a computer. The tool can also be used to open the store, manage inventory and product preparation, and close the store.

For example, staff can ask Alexa, “What’s the remaining smoke time for the ribs in the smoker?” or “What are current sales?” The system then pulls the requested information from its big-data system, Smoke Stack.

“Less time on the tablet or entering data in a worksheet gives managers more time to focus on the food and quality and simple ‘talk through’ retrieving or saving their data as they work and multi-task,” says CEO Laura Rea Dickey.

Queue no more

At the 600-seat Olive’s in Manhattan’s Hudson Eats food hall, owner Nick Hartman partnered with POS-maker Clover to equip staff with hand-held devices that they could use to take orders from customers standing in line.

“Using this system, we’re able to take orders and accept payment on the fly from anywhere inside the restaurant and immediately cut a line down from 50 to less than 10 in minutes,” Hartman says. “There are 14 other restaurants at Hudson Eats doing the same volume as us, but since using the hand-helds, I have noticed we always have the shortest line.”

Recovery mission

When IKEA launched its Food Is Precious campaign with the goal of cutting waste in its on-site restaurants by half by 2020, the retailer partnered with food-waste solution provider LeanPath. Staff members use the program by weighing food going to landfill or compost bins. Based on that data, the restaurants can make changes, such as switching to smaller batch and a la carte cooking or optimizing portion sizes.

IKEA West Chester outside of Cincinnati has reportedly saved 4,689 meals, and the IKEA in Burbank, California, has recovered 10,038 meals in just about a year. That amounts to a respective 20 and 30 percent reduction of food waste.

Tracking waste using this system has also opened staff members’ eyes. “They get a lot of insight into what the waste means. They’re not just dumping it,” wrote IKEA food operations manager Admir Pavlovic in an internally produced case study. 

Restaurant Operations, Story, Technology, Blaze Fast Fire'd Pizza, Dickey's Barbecue Pit, Pancheros Mexican Grill