Steph So headshot.
Olivia Ross headshot.
Lena Katz headshot
Steph So headshot.
Elad Inbar headshot.
Deborah M. headshot.
Shelly Rupel headshot.
Colin Webb headshot.
Tammy Billings headshot.
Greg Erickson headshot.
Clay Johnson headshot.
Dan Mosher headshot.
Carl Orsbourn headshot.
Bryan Solar headshot.
Erle Dardick headshot.
Perse Failey headshot.
Andrea Huels headshot.
Ryan Stackable headshot.
Chris Demery headshot.
Steve Fredette headshot.
Katie O'Dell headshot.

As the industry works toward optimization and finding solutions for post-pandemic life, these leaders are enabling restaurants to deliver customer experience across an ever-evolving suite of channels and opportunities.




Olivia Ross

Head of CRM, Loyalty and E-Commerce, Digital Marketing, El Pollo Loco

Ross finds herself at the intersection of science and creativity. And, in some ways, it’s kismet. Growing up, Ross’ father worked in tech and liked to share the innovations he came across. Her parents encouraged Ross and her sister to test tools, software, and devices as they were introduced. Now, she’s doing it for a living following what might be the greatest paradigm shift on record for restaurants.

Ross started her career on the brand side and came over to El Pollo Loco in November 2021 after a run as director of marketing for fast casual Halo Burger. Her role in leading CRM, Loyalty, and E-Commerce is essential for EPL to communicate with current and future guests about the brand, focusing on creating engaging experiences across owned channels. She’s had the opportunity to flex through the launch of a new loyalty program, custom mobile app, and ordering site, as well as overseeing the redesign and evolution of EPL’s communication and digital assets while integrating AI to advance personalization efforts. Ross also led the expansion of the nearly 500-unit chain’s MarTech stack. To put in plainly, she’s reliving her childhood curiosity at breakneck speed.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen massive shifts in the digital landscape, with online ordering taking off exponentially due to the pandemic, leading to an overwhelming amount of tech platforms that created data silos and made it difficult for brands to unlock their true digital potential,” she says. “Today, we are seeing a movement toward consolidating MarTech platforms, with more and more vendors offering a one-stop shop solution for brands. The ways we can engage with a customer are limitless and the restaurant experience is becoming more digitized from ghost kitchens to automation in back of house, we’re seeing more and more application of technology within the four walls of the business.”

Looking to the future, Ross believes Consumer Data Platforms, or CDPs, will become table stakes for major brands in the next five years. Operators will be able to break down customer data so it can be more intentional in how it communicates. “For example, we may have a guest who we’ve identified as a family meal purchaser and know they order the same thing every other Thursday on their way home from work to feed their family,” Ross says. “We can pre-emptively send them a one-click purchase push-notification that reminds them to order and schedule a pickup based on the time it takes for this individual to go from work to our restaurant.”

Restaurants can then take it a step further, she adds, by delivering an email with ideas for leftovers for school lunches. It can continue to support that customer as tastes and preferences evolve, delivering strategic offers, messaging, and content across the brand’s ecosystem.

At EPL these days, the chain is leaning further into AI and how it can integrate it into automations. “All in favor of a more meaningful, engaging guest experience,” Ross says. “We are using AI to help us create food cost efficiencies, deploy strategic offers, segment customers, and her the right content to the right consumers.”

Additionally, EPL continues to work toward expanding its digital experience. “We believe the mobile app should be the place where guests feel most connected to our brand and our long-term vision is to truly create an all-in-one experience in the palm of guest’s hands,” Ross adds.

Lena Katz

Content and Creator Strategy Lead, Ampersand, Inc.

Lena Katz is revolutionizing the way brands and organizations connect with their audience through creator partnerships. Katz’s role at Ampersand, Inc—a subsidiary of Tokyo-based commercial production company AOI-Pro—involves guiding brands to find creator partners who can serve as their online ambassadors, representing them across various social platforms. 

“I’m an outlier in my area, because I know for a fact that automation/AI are not going to be anyone’s solution to this new and ever-changing space,” Katz notes. “I use a lot of the martech that’s out there, but I know where it’s flawed. I worked at a platform that pushes automated self-service pretty hard, and the more customers rely on it, the worse it fails them. I’m there to kindly tell people where the holes are.”

Katz’s career journey spans several generations of restaurant marketing tech, from the days of manually collecting paper menus from restaurants and typing up summaries for AOL and Citysearch directories to the present digital age. One significant change, she highlights, is the shift towards an era where the customer voice cannot be ignored. 

And the next big trend? Katz believes that the “phygital” evolution—which merges features from the physical space with digital innovation—is a game-changer. For the restaurant industry, this evolution involves integrating the best content from social and digital customer interaction channels into the ordering experience. 

“How many people look to social media to inform their ordering? Lots,” Katz says. “And if we’re just walking up to a counter or a kiosk, we’re probably not jumping on devices to see what the latest crowd-sourced innovation item from Chipotle or Starbucks is. But a lot of us would.”

Katz envisions a scenario where ordering includes meal deals, customizations, and upgrades recommended by popular social media baristas, burger experts, and other influencers. “Also, I think you could make it much more dynamic and niche-targeted than the celeb-endorsed partnerships that we’re currently seeing,” she continues. “Best case scenario there, the celeb-endorsed special sells out nationwide. But if local personalities or niche experts are each promoting something different, it diversifies according to different tastes and allows for several menu items/categories to share the spotlight.”

Steph So

Head of digital experience, Shake Shack

So’s first jobs, while in college, came in restaurants. Her exposure to foodservice tech was limited then to learning how to operate the order management system as a server in a few fine-casual spots. “I remember using a swipe card to place my orders and send them to the kitchen,” So says. “It’s interesting today that much of that back-end hasn’t changed in many restaurants, from [quick service] to fine casual. What’s changed has been the front-end and how consumers are taking control over the ordering experience with all the new digital platforms [kiosks, apps, third party delivery, mobile payment].”

“There’s so much more in the hands of the user that it becomes much more of a challenge for restaurants to deliver on experience,” she adds.

As head of digital experience at Shake Shack, So oversees digital marketing, digital product roadmap and strategy, and third-party delivery partnerships. Since coming onboard in 2019, she’s focused on growing digital sales and supporting integrated marketing campaigns in fresh channels. So has launched multiple enhancements across the fast casual’s app and web and helped integrate new delivery partners, as well as launch co-marketing campaigns across platforms.

The role has served as a front-row seat to speeding evolution. Yet So feels restaurants need to keep hallmarks of hospitality in mind as they keep pace. “While everyone is talking about AI, I think the next big tech trend is how we use tech to enable more human interaction,” she says. “One of our biggest examples of this at Shake Shack has been the kiosk. When we use technology to enable ordering, it frees one of our team members to provide great guest interaction—like bringing food to tables, setting up a high chair for a young guest, keeping tables clean, and tidy and providing table touches.”

Behind the scenes, Shake Shack and So continue to work on marketing tech and capabilities. “I’ve been really excited to see how marketing automation tools have developed to help brands personalize content and offers at scale. Customer-facing, we’re piloting autonomous delivery vehicles in a few markets. It’s so much fun and exciting to see our food traveling by robot to our guests! It feels like a glimpse into the future of food delivery.”

Elad Inbar

Founder and CEO, RobotLAB

Elad Inbar discovered his love for robots when he was a child. Later on, he found a way to turn his hobby into a career. Inspired by smartphone-enabled cars, drones, and more that hit the market after the iPhone debuted, Inbar founded RobotLAB in 2007—an educational tech company that manufactures robotics and virtual reality (VR) products for K-12 and higher education, as well as business robots for retail, restaurant, hospitality, and medical companies.

With over 10,000 robots deployed, RobotLAB has become a driving force behind the integration of robotics in the restaurant industry. Inbar’s team of skilled roboticists helps restaurant owners streamline their operations by automating routine tasks, ultimately improving their bottom line and employee retention.

“In the past few years, delivery robots have become more affordable and smarter for their use cases, so restaurants are seeing great value in integrating them into daily operations,” Inbar says. “Today’s delivery robots are much more complex, offering great suspension, the ability to handle incline, slosh-preventing modes for soups and drinks, and highly customizable visual mapping.”

One notable success story is the company’s collaboration with Kura Sushi USA, where delivery robots are seamlessly integrated into daily operations. This not only increased employee retention and happiness, but also led to higher guest tips, Inbar notes. What sets RobotLAB apart is its end-to-end approach, overseeing all aspects of robotics integration including sales, tailored programming, on-site integration, and repairs.

While labor in the foodservice industry continues to be a challenge for operators who are seeking out more tech solutions, “we’re proud to say we’ve never sold a robot to a restaurant that then fired a server or decided to not hire because of the robot,” Inbar highlights. “In fact, most restaurants voluntarily tell us that after a few months of using the delivery robots with their staff, tips increased and stress decreased.”

In 2023, Inbar focused on expanding access to robotics solutions through the world’s first robotics integration franchise, launched in May. This franchising initiative aims to bring business-transforming robotics to cities across the U.S., making it easier for restaurants of all sizes to harness the power of automation.

Looking ahead, Inbar predicts that vertical farming and robotics integration will become a major tech trend. Vertical farming, which combines controlled environments with robotics, has the potential to revolutionize food production. It can address global food crises by maximizing efficiency, reducing land use, and promoting sustainability.

Deborah Matteliano

Global head of restaurants, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

A decade ago, you weren’t cold calling an operator and being asked how you fit into the tech stack. “There wasn’t a tech stack,” says Matteliano, who, at AWS, has the opportunity to support the world’s largest quick-service brands, third-party delivery, and restaurant tech companies. 

That broad purview has enabled Matteliano to see just how much everything’s changed. Her first stint in restaurant tech was launching early Uber Eats marketplaces across the Mid-Atlantic. They were one of the first “big-techs” to contact restaurants about digital ordering. “We learned pretty quickly that restaurants wanted to cook and interact with guests, not man tablets,” she says. “Now you see almost an inverse, digital-forward approach. Restaurants know that foodservice and tech are now inextricable, and they’ve become savvier consumers with a shrewd ability to understand where new products fit into the tech stack.”

Throughout her journey, Matteliano has always been curious about the psychology of change. Tech trends, she says, start with noticing shifts in human behavior and getting ahead of them. “With steady growth in drive-thru, pickup, and digital orders and a delivery market that’s still very dominant, it’s time to admit that the way people interact with food has fundamentally changed,” she says. “We’ve discovered new formats that change the way restaurants fit into our lives.”

“I don’t know what the solution is for this yet, but I know whoever figures out the next version of the ‘copper pot’ in food tech will have an understanding of the dramatic ways our relationship to food has shifted over a short time span,” Matteliano adds.

It’s a history lesson. Restaurants have been around since the French Revolution, serving as gathering spots for patrons to discuss ideas and connect. “People have less of a desire to eat in a social setting now—and when they do, they’re seeking an elusive sense of ‘experiential’ dining where something unexpected, memorable, Instagrammable, will happen,” she continues. “Yet restaurants still exist as a ‘third space’ for in-person meetings—how will they evolve to meet this need?”

Can we picture what consumers relationship to social eating will look like 10 years from now? Working back from what matters to that diner will be the next big frontier, Matteliano believes.

And in the present, like many leaders in this report, understanding data surfaces as No. 1 wish-list solve for operators. At its core, Matteliano says, data is information, and restaurants and restaurant techs “want to know the answer to the Dr. Seuss-style data riddle: ‘what is it, is it clean, who owns it, and what does it mean?” she says. “At AWS we solve all four of those areas. Gathering massive amounts of data is only useful if you put it to work for you—inspiring a new idea or advancing strategy. Generative AI has many exciting applications with chatbot food ordering, menu item creation, interactive voice response in the call center, even employee training. I see Generative BI coming next: tools that translate all this data we’ve been collecting into actionable insights for chefs, operators, franchisees.

“Restaurants want to focus on executing great food. They’ve also become savvy with learning from their data. But nobody is saying trained Michelin chefs should become data scientists. New Generative AI and Generative BI capabilities that translate analytics into strategic action are what I see as the next frontier.”

Shelly Rupel

Co-founder and CEO, Devour

Shelly Rupel brings over 30 years of experience as a technology entrepreneur, strategic partnerships leader, and restaurant owner to her role as the co-founder and CEO of Devour. The company is leveraging web3 technology to unlock new opportunities for restaurants in the realms of gaming, esports, and the metaverse.

Devour’s flagship product, DevourGO, operates as a groundbreaking marketplace that seamlessly integrates web3 capabilities. It enables restaurants to tap into a vast and rapidly growing demographic of 212 million gamers in the U.S., offering them an exciting and rewarding experience to “eat, earn, and experience” while they enjoy their favorite games, she notes.

“Our technology unlocks promotions, secret menu items, rewards, and experiences associated with a user’s digital assets. GoVIP, our gamified loyalty and engagement program, enables users to play, share, and spin their way to amazing rewards,” Rupel says.

One of Devour’s key objectives is to seamlessly integrate gaming and dining. Rupel envisions a future where gamers can effortlessly order food from their preferred restaurants while immersed in gaming, participating in fantasy esports, or exploring immersive metaverses. This vision reflects the company’s commitment to delivering a fun and rewarding experience to gamers, merging the worlds of gastronomy and gaming.

Over the years, Rupel has witnessed a profound transformation in restaurant technology. The shift from on-premises networks to cloud-based POS systems, the rise of food delivery services, and the proliferation of technology solutions for restaurants have all marked significant milestones in the industry’s evolution. Her prediction for the next big tech trend flying under the radar involves the use of digital assets and NFTs for loyalty programs, marketing campaigns, customer data management, and rewards. 

Colin Webb

Co-founder and CEO, Sauce 

Colin Webb, the co-founder and CEO of Sauce, is a dynamic figure in the restaurant technology sector, pioneering innovative solutions to help restaurants thrive in an increasingly digital landscape. Sauce empowers restaurants to maximize profits and sales by utilizing dynamic pricing and data analytics to optimize pricing strategies.

Webb’s journey into restaurant tech began with a strong academic background, holding an MIT degree and a career background in artificial intelligence and self-driving car technology. However, his roots in the restaurant world run deep. He worked at his uncle’s Cold Stone Creamery and his co-founder worked at Torchy’s Tacos. This unique blend of technology expertise and firsthand experience in the restaurant industry laid the foundation for Sauce’s vision.

Webb’s leadership has been instrumental, from personally coding the initial platform to securing partnerships with major players in the restaurant industry. Recently his focus has shifted towards business development, strategic partnerships, and product design.

His insights into the transformation of the restaurant industry are equally compelling. He highlights the rapid digital transition of restaurants, emphasizing the need for investments in online ordering and tech upgrades that were once on the back burner but are now essential for success. Dynamic pricing, one of Sauce’s core offerings, is becoming increasingly relevant in this digital age.

In a forward-looking perspective, Webb likes the concept of “virtual time travel,” envisioning a future where AI-enabled search allows us to seamlessly access and analyze historical data, offering profound insights for strategic decision-making. This perspective demonstrates his visionary approach to technology and its potential impact on various industries, including restaurants.

Tammy K. Billings

Strategic Technology Advisor

Billings has been at the tip of disruption before. She began her restaurant career as the marketing director who opened LA Live during the recession. She was responsible for driving traffic to 14 restaurants amid a “terrible market.”

“Social media was new, OpenTable/Yelp were new, lots of tech was emerging, and we were writing the playbooks as we went,” Billings says. This was followed by roles as head of marketing for two restaurant groups. After finishing her MBA at Pepperdine, Billings made the move to the vendor side, working with Fishbowl/Personica, Marketing Vitals/Red Onion, and lastly, Wisely/Olo before becoming a co-founder at Aben and the founder of Industry Bias. Today, she works with several technology companies in the vertical, supporting them with a range of sales and marketing services including: GoTo Market Strategies, Partnerships, & Business Development. My clients include: Ovation,, Extropy360, Big Colony,, & GoZone Wi-Fi. Additionally, Industry Bias, the company she founded, is a solution that helps industry executives connect for full-time and fractional jobs.

In regard to tech, the bulk of Billings’ energies have centered on data and analytics. She says the most notable changes over the past 15 years for restaurants have come in data and point of sale. “When I started talking to brands about payment tokens in 2015, it was a foreign concept to all but a few,” she says. “Today it’s become a standard tool to measure frequency patterns outside of loyalty. Data retrieval without a cloud-based POS was challenging back in 2015—placing an agent on a local terminal to retrieve transaction level data on a daily basis seems archaic now. As brands move to the Cloud for POS, a world of technological possibilities has opened up giving way to more technology than the industry can handle, or afford.”

Billings says the industry of late has seen “small and quiet layoffs among brand marketing teams, slow industry traffic yielding slow technology sales, supplier consolidation, companies shifting from growth to profitability strategies as the cost of money has increased, restaurant groups merging, and more.”

As tech has proliferated, it’s become more fragmented, she adds. That’s made it challenging for restaurants to choose what solutions to adopt. And although a full-on recession hasn’t materialized, traffic across the sector has slogged, further taxing the opportunity for tech adoption. “Many investors have shifted their focus away from restaurants technology requiring suppliers to become profitable or merge,” Billings says. “As part of this cycle, restaurant companies themselves are merging to gain better economies of scale and streamline technology or other shared services. These big industry technology trends collide in labor utilization.”

“The highest demand in the industry is for solutions that reduce or eliminate labor costs,” she continues. “That may be in the form of artificial intelligence paired with cameras or voice to prompt an action or eliminate the need for an employee. It may be in the form of robots flipping burgers, delivering food, or making pizzas. Or it may simply be in talent sourcing and retention. Human capital is at a premium as line level jobs remain hard to staff in a post-COVID world.”

Given Billings works with a bevy of companies, she has a nuanced view of what’s ahead. Ovation, for instance, incorporated phone to text to reduce the need for a human to answer a phone. is solving for a host of challenges that monitor employee actions, giving the GM 24/7 coverage. To name a couple. Her Industry Bias, currently under construction, seeks to use structured data to connect candidates with companies anonymously shifting the inherent bias in hiring to the bias of industry experience while leveling the playing field in terms of compensation.

Greg Erickson 

National Account Manager, STANLEY Access Technologies 

Greg Erickson is a seasoned professional with over 25 years of experience in the automatic door industry. In his current role, he is passionate about leveraging his expertise to address the evolving needs of major players in the retail, healthcare, and quick-service sectors.

Erickson’s journey into restaurant technology is a recent but impactful one. In 2020, he was approached by a prominent global leader in the quick-service industry faced with a slew of challenges, including a labor shortage, increased customer traffic, reduced dine-in options, and growing demand for online ordering and delivery services. The mission was clear: Remove barriers at the drive-thru to deliver faster and more efficient service to their customers.

Collaborating closely with this client, Erickson and his team developed a solution based on direct input from the industry itself. The result was the creation of the Dura-Glide DT automatic door/window system, marking STANLEY Access Technologies’ first foray into providing quick-service-specific solutions.

As he reflects on the evolution of the quick-service space, he notes that despite the years passing, brands still grapple with similar challenges to those faced in 2020. Customers at the drive-thru now expect an experience akin to in-person dining, but with the convenience and speed that the drive-thru promises.

Currently, STANLEY Access Technologies is focusing on the Dura-Glide-DT system. This technology aims to enhance throughput, reduce wait times, and improve overall efficiency. Its unique feature of operating in both window and door modes allows staff to serve drive-thru customers seamlessly while catering to parked patrons and third-party delivery services. This technological leap builds upon the success of the Dura-Glide 2000/3000, an automatic sliding door with a proven track record spanning over 30 years.

Clay Johnson

Chief digital and technology officer, Yum! Brands

Before joining Yum! and its 56,000-plus restaurant fleet in 2019, Johnson served in tech leadership roles across verticals, including retail, energy, and aviation. One evolution he enjoyed tracking was how top companies took a holistic view of digital transformation. “In restaurants, for example, in the past there was a lot of focus on delivering a slick omnichannel ordering experience for the customer,” he says. “However, you would then see the team member fulfilling those digital orders on clunky, outdated kitchen display systems. At Yum!, we are taking a comprehensive approach to digital transformation that considers all stakeholders, including how we can elevate the restaurant team member experience and improve operations and unit economics for our franchisees through digital.”

The KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Habit Burger owner calls this its “Easy” strategy, which centers on enabling “Easy Experiences” for customers, “Easy Operations” in restaurants, and “Easy Insights” to drive growth. It’s a path that requires significant cross-functional collaboration, with tech, data science, marketing, and restaurant operations all playing a part. And, clearly, it’s taking hold at Yum!: the company has doubled its digital business since 2019 and delivered a record $24 billion in digital sales in 2022.

Gazing into the crystal ball, Johnson says AI and robotics are gobbling headlines for good reason. “… They have huge, transformative potential in our business,” he says. “In fact, many of our proprietary technologies already use AI today and we continue to invest in deepening these AI capabilities.”

In one example, Yum! acquired Dragontail Technologies in 2021. It’s a system that allows the company to tap into the power of AI to optimize its entire food preparation process from order through delivery, including automating kitchen flow, driver dispatch, and customer order tracking. Phrased simply, it takes much of the guesswork out of running a delivery business.

“I see opportunity for more conversation around how we find and scale enduring AI use cases for the restaurant industry,” Johnson adds. “At Yum!, we have a significant advantage in that we have four different brands and restaurants located around the world. This is the most fertile [quick-service restaurant] testing ground in the industry, and we are exploring innovative use cases across our portfolio every day. As we identify the use cases that have the most transformative potential for our customers, team members and franchisees, we must be able to scale them quickly. This requires our brands to have a shared digital and technology ecosystem, which is at the heart of our strategy.”

The eventual aspiration for Yum! is for 100 percent of its global system sales to be powered by digital (meaning there’s a digital component to each of its transactions). This could be a customer placing an order online or through an app, third-party aggregator, kiosks, or messaging platform, like WhatsApp. “These orders will be fulfilled by AI-enabled and empowered team members. The biggest technology priority for Yum! is deploying our proprietary digital and technology ecosystem across our brands globally to achieve our aspiration,” Johnson says.

Dan Mosher

President, Presto Automation

Dan Mosher is a driving force in the restaurant technology industry, leading the charge in delivering innovative Voice AI solutions to quick-service chains and their franchise networks. In his role, he oversees the entire go-to-market strategy and operational execution of Presto Automation, ensuring seamless sales, installation, and performance optimization of the Voice AI system on a per-location basis.

Presto’s mission is to transform the industry by injecting digital capabilities into the drive-thru, a crucial but historically technology-limited area of fast-food operations. Mosher’s role is instrumental in achieving this goal, focusing on critical key performance indicators (KPIs) such as increased revenue, labor savings, and speed, all while leveraging education, best practices, and executional expertise to drive results.

His journey into restaurant technology began when he joined Postmates to lead and develop its restaurant-facing Merchant team during the rapid rise of app-based food delivery. He witnessed firsthand the transformational impact of technology on the restaurant industry, similar to what is currently happening with Voice AI. Over the past six years, the restaurant tech landscape has evolved significantly, with restaurants now boasting comprehensive technology and digital teams that provide a 360-degree view of the customer journey across various channels.

Mosher believes that the next major tech trend in the restaurant tech space is AI, and its potential impact is yet to be fully grasped. He predicts that AI will revolutionize the industry to the extent that human staff may become obsolete in taking orders at drive-thrus within five years. 

Presto’s most significant technological focus is perfecting the Voice AI system’s functionality in the drive-thru environment. This entails achieving human-like speed, seamless transmission of orders to kitchen display systems, simultaneous updates to digital menu boards, and real-time communication with customers regarding item availability.

Carl Orsbourn

COO & Co-Founder, JUICER

Orsbourn has always favored the non-traditional. An early executive at Kitchen United, he noticed how imperative technology was while building ghost kitchens and operating models from the ground up. He felt restaurant executives were pushing back against the changes in the industry instead of moving in the direction of operational efficiency drivers through tech stacks.

Together with fellow tech pioneer Meredith Sandland (a QSR Digital Disruptor in 2022), Orsbourn co-authored the Axiom 2022 Business Book Award Winner “Delivering the Digital Restaurant” and its sequel, “Delivering the Digital Restaurant: The Path to Digital Maturity.”    

“When the pandemic hit, everyone had to face digital disruption overnight, whether they liked it or not,” Orsbourn says. “[The books] are a playbook that supports executives with the questions they must answer to find digital success.” 

JUICER, which Orsbourn cofounded in 2022, uses innovative data science to help restaurants optimize and automate their pricing strategies. The company is working on numerous products that will aid restaurants in boosting their digital revenue. 

The Enlighten product, for one, will “shake things up a bit,” Orsbourn says. The tech advancement will demonstrate at checkout how much a guest saves by ordering directly, which helps in a climate where transactions are down for many restaurants. 

He is watching restaurants move toward vertically integrated tech stack solutions, away from “Frankensteined” tech stacks that hinder a brand’s ability to interpret the data it is collecting to improve first-party user experiences and reinforce its value. 

“We’re drowning in an ocean of data … and companies like JUICER will help,” Orsbourn says. “The technology solutions that utilize data most effectively will be explicitly results-oriented and efficient to implement … helping the industry’s ability to move faster and improve the guest experience and bottom line.” 

Bryan Solar

Chief product officer, SpotOn

Solar’s family table was crowded with small business owners, including aunts, uncles, and grandparents in hospitality. So he always understood the crazy connection that is restaurant ownership. After college and a stint in strategy consulting, Solar cofounded a nonprofit to revitalize struggling small shops, particularly restaurants. He helped create a company while attending Stanford Business School that developed real-time marketing tech to drive traffic during off-peak hours. It was eventually acquired by Google. Since, Solar’s attention has focused squarely on small businesses, particularly restaurants.

At SpotOn, Solar’s role revolves around shaping the company’s vision, which aims to be the comprehensive “business operating system” for customers. “My team and I obsess about the future of our industry at the crossroads of adaptable technology, actionable insights from data, and genuine customer support. To succeed, businesses need to invest holistically in all three areas, and it’s our job to ensure our customers are ready with all three of those,” he says.

The goal of SpotOn is to create tech that’s intuitive and streamlined to where it’s essentially invisible to operators. “Today, most business intelligence solutions are reactive and begin with a question that leads to a report ready for analysis. For example, what were sales yesterday? How many covers did we do? SpotOn believes the future of business intelligence will be more proactive, delivering the insights and recommendations restaurant operators need to move their business forward,” Solar says.

For the last three or so years, he adds, there’s been a growing trend of “marketplaces” and tech providers pushing their own brands above clients’ brands. Consumers are encouraged to download a provider’s app to order takeout or delivery instead of ordering through an app or website of the restaurant they’re interested in. “We believe that a wave of change is coming where restaurants and brands, more broadly, are going to reclaim their guest relationships and focus on building direct relationships with their customers,” Solar explains. “How? For quite some time, customers of airlines, hotels, and ecommerce retail have benefited from tailored experiences bespoke to their preferences, spending, and loyalty. That level of customization still hasn’t crossed over into the hospitality space. We believe that the restaurant concepts that figure out how to deliver deeply personalized experiences, including status, special access, special rewards, etc., will be able to pull their customers back directly. SpotOn’s bet: it’s all about your restaurant brand.”

To become the comprehensive suite Solar mentioned, the company will need to move beyond payment processes and the POS toward a complete ecosystem that helps customers constantly improve, he says. “One of the things we’re most excited about is the investments we are making in helping operators better understand what’s happening within their business as a whole,” he says.

“Over the years, the restaurant industry has undergone a transformative shift,” Solar adds. “The rapid integration of technology has reshaped how customers interact with restaurants, be it on-premises, off-premises, or in digital spaces. What’s apparent is that technology was somewhat imposed on hospitality rather than being tailored for it. This is precisely what we are tackling at SpotOn.”

Erle Dardick

CSO, Lunchbox

After launching an exhaustive global analysis of foodservice order management technologies, Dardick was perplexed: How could there be hundreds of different approaches to managing order flow, but not a single platform capable of handling both takeout and catering orders efficiently? 

This is what led him to Lunchbox, a leading provider of off-premises order management technology for enterprise multi-unit restaurant chains. Lunchbox’s product suite includes app and web ordering, marketing tools, consultation, and an OPEN API platform for tying together an integrated tech stack. 

As CSO, Dardick’s strategic input spans across all departments of Lunchbox—sales, marketing, engineering, implementations, and more. His over two decade-long run in the restaurant technology space helps lead the company in “a market [that] is moving very rapidly and is getting more crowded each day.” 

He foresees another seismic shift in the evolution of order management technology, one which started with the birth of the POS system in 1973 and is moving toward an era of technology consolidation. 

“Advancements in AI and robotics are now entering our kitchens, and these shifts are being primarily driven by sophisticated order management systems, cloud-based environments, and restaurant automation,” Dardick says. “But systems aren’t as seamlessly integrated as they could be.” 

Dardick notes the dream of bringing all channels into one unified space instead of an ongoing fragmentation of technology providers is being made possible by companies like Lunchbox.

“Our OPEN API initiative is not just an advancement; it’s a revolutionary step which promises to redefine how restaurants and technology providers interact, collaborate, and grow in a unified ecosystem,” Dardick says.

Perse Faily

CEO, Tillster

When Faily, who began her career as a consultant and venture capitalist, joined Tillster in 2007, the company had a vision the same omnichannel, personalized experiences that were surfacing in retail would soon come to restaurants. Back then, Tillster was exclusively a kiosk company; iPhones hadn’t even taken off. “So I was evangelizing for the future of digital,” Faily says. “The restaurant industry traditionally lags behind technology adoption and innovation in the retail space, so it took time for restaurants to truly realize the power of going digital.”

Personalization and one-to-one marketing remained foreign concepts. Yet when the pandemic tossed standard operating procedures, Tillster—like much of the field—started having different conversations. Restaurants had to go digital to survive and guest expectations progressed to a place they’ll never return from. “Now, restaurants need to be mindful of the physical and digital experiences [phygital] of their customers—providing human touch with the convenience provided by technology,” Faily says. “I’ve been proud of our role in moving the industry toward that original vision and supporting the digital transformation of hundreds of restaurants. But I still feel that we’re in the early innings of what the restaurant experience is and can be.”

And where does it go next? Faily believes, through tech, there’s an opportunity to increase how personalized and relevant experiences can become. For restaurant owners, there’s much yet to do to bump average check, drive the bottom line, operate more efficiently, and use labor better, she says. “In some of the digital transformation scramble of the pandemic we saw an influx of disparate solutions. So now, the next step is consolidation to have visibility into a full 360, real time understanding of the customer,” Faily says.

“Another one of the biggest areas of opportunity is in operations, and tying together the front and back of house,” she adds. “We’re all aware of the labor shortage and retention issues restaurant owners have faced in the last several years. So, there is technology aimed at enhancing efficiency to counter that reality. However, there’s still a lot of opportunity when it comes to supply chain management, too.”

Tillster these days invests heavily in predictive AI. Faily says they’ve seen “incredible results” from recommendation engines. And it’s all cracking wide a wave of possibility. “There are a lot of legacy-based, preconceived beliefs about customer behavior that are being challenged by the data,” she says/ “One example is that the upsells you’d expect many times aren’t the menu items more frequently added to orders. Preferences vary so much by individual market, location, and each customer that we’re increasingly able to provide a better experience for the diner while bumping up the average check size for the restaurant owner. It’s exciting to see how much more precise we’re able to tailor recommendations and to watch our customers—and their customers—benefit.”

Andrea Huels

Head of Global Growth & Strategy, Radius AI 

When ChatGPT was released in November 2022, the quick-service restaurant industry raced to integrate it into their systems. But this was uncharted territory—and many brands were unaware of AI’s true potential and what companies to partner with. 

This is where RadiusAI came in. The AI-powered visual intelligence company specializes in quick-serves, retail, and C-stores. The company offers over 40 use cases to help the front of house, kitchen, and drive-thru become more agile and turn data into actionable insights. 

As Head of Global Growth and Strategy, Huels’s mission is to demystify what it means to use computer vision technology and connect enterprise leaders to ecosystems who facilitate AI sequences. 

“I inspire leaders to leverage artificial intelligence to drive operational efficiency, transform the customer experience, and make smarter decisions,” Huels says. 

Huels defines AI as a “major technological paradigm shift,” capable of automating food orders, predicting order readiness, optimizing staffing, and expediting food delivery. 

Quick-service brands continue to grapple with impersonalized experiences, order inaccuracies, and nonoptimal throughput. Huels believes the industry is headed toward a future where conversational AI revolutionizes the guest experience through identifying upselling opportunities, correcting inaccuracies, and providing multilingual support. 

“The future of [quick-service restaurants] is set to become multi-modal, characterized by the seamless integration of carious advanced technologies,” Huels says. “This integration will usher in a new era of efficiency, customer engagement, and operational excellence.” 

Huels continues to work with RadiusAI on a customizable voice assistant that will act as an internal ChatGPT-like tool to answer questions based on previously collected datasets.

Ryan Stackable

CEO, Adplorer

Stackable, a 27-year-old tech entrepreneur, quickly kicked off his graduation gown from the University of Arkansas to lead the invention of a tech-driven restaurant advertising SAAS platform. Adplorer is a local digital advertising software built to help franchise brands and multi-location businesses (including restaurants) manage local campaigns at scale. It enables users to spread across thousands of SMBs, franchise locations, and enterprises globally. The newest software, Adplorer Horizon, was specifically designed to help franchisors and CMOs create, refine, and grow digital marketing efforts in a single platform.

“In my experience, the restaurant technology landscape has undergone notable transformations, especially over recent years,” Stackable says. “The industry witnessed a significant shift toward digitalization, with the increase of mobile apps, online ordering systems and third-party delivery—all of which have also had a great impact on how restaurants advertise themselves on the local level. As restaurants and multi-location businesses have optimized their digital presence, traditional marketing solutions became more obsolete. Which is why we’re focused on helping restaurants take back control of their advertising strategies and marketing spend with streamlined solutions.”

Stackable also weighed in on AI, a common theme throughout the Digital Disruptors. He says it’s a topic that continually gathers attention, but little talk comes regarding its impact on advertising. “I think we’re going to start to hear more about hyper-localized and AI-driven ad campaigns, including dynamically optimized ad content, placement, and timing to target specific audiences in real-time. AI will continuously learn and adjust strategies, ensuring efficient budget allocation and maximizing ROI,” he says.

In addition to its new Chat-GPT integration, Stackable’s company is working on dynamic budget distribution between more ad networks, he adds. It’s crafting deeper advertising integrations with non-traditional players entering the quick-service advertising space, like Amazon, “which is known for e-commerce but is now entering the local’ space,” Stackable says, “which will mean marketers will have to adjust how they reach customers on these new platform opportunities.”

Chris Demery

Chief Technology Officer, Blaze Pizza

As the chief technology officer for Blaze, Demery oversees all aspects of IT for more than 330 restaurants spanning 38 states and six countries. He’s the leader of “all things digital” for Blaze, from the brand’s website and e-commerce capabilities to customer relationship management and all of the technologies associated with enabling digital growth. 

He started in restaurant technology with Domino’s, where he helped build out the technology stack starting at the restaurant level. From there, he extended into the middle tier of the stack, including reporting and near real-time metrics, then worked on extending those technologies into international countries. 

Demery says the next big tech trend is “leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide enhanced capabilities around making the food manufacturing process more predictable in the face of guests’ changing needs.” At Blaze, he’s leveraging innovations within the POS environment, coupled with kitchen systems that communicate with customers and provide AI-based promise times for guests. 

“Today, our guests want their favorite locations to provide ‘what they want, when they want it, and where they want it,’” he says. “This is a daunting challenge in today’s environment. I do think people are talking about it, but not seeking to enable it fast enough.”

Steve Fredette

Co-President and Co-Founder, Toast

Fredette says the idea of an integrated experience from front-of-house to back-of-house was “unheard of” when he launched Toast back in 2011 alongside co-founders Aman Narang and Jon Grimm. Over the years, the trio has built a single platform of SaaS products and financial technology tools that give restaurants everything they need to run their business across point of sale, operations, digital ordering and delivery, marketing and loyalty, and team management.

“In the last decade, we’ve continued to see this concept of integration develop, allowing restaurant operators to work with different technologies more seamlessly, and companies in the space, Toast included, have worked to create more comprehensive end-to-end offerings,”
Fredette says. “A restaurant having the freedom to use either a true end-to-end solution or a tech stack comprised of ‘best of breed’ solutions of their choosing are both realities now in a way they weren’t when we started.”

He leads product and innovation initiatives for Toast. Lately, he’s been focused on developing solutions to serve all of the industry’s unique segments. As an example, the company recently launched Toast for Cafes and Bakeries, a solution designed specifically to help cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries add new revenue streams and speed up service with faster workflows. It builds on other recent launches tailored for specific categories, like last year’s release of Toast for Quick Service and Toast for Hotel Restaurants. 

Fredette also sees opportunities to leverage AI to improve the company’s products and customer service capabilities. Think AI-generated menus and marketing content for restaurants along with AI assistants that make it easier for businesses to access analytics. 

“We also think AI can help our team to better serve customers,” he says. “Imagine if every one of our Toast team members has an assistant who’s a deep and wide Toast expert, who can also help do tasks for them. We are looking into these possibilities and more.” 

Katie O’Dell

Vice President of Client Services for Restaurant Accounts, Bounteous

O’Dell serves as the vice president of client services for restaurant accounts at Bounteous, a digital experience consultancy that partners with brands like Domino’s, Dutch Bros, Wingstop, and more. 

She previously spearheaded key projects for several Fortune 500 companies, utilizing consumer segmentation, behavioral data, and consumer journeys to create personalized experiences that enhanced engagement, fostered brand loyalty, and drove sales. That experience directly translates to her current role, where she leads a team of client service partners focused on guiding restaurant brands through their digital transformation journey. Bounteous empowers brands to excel in the omnichannel landscape with NomNom, an accelerator technology comprising code libraries, reference architectures, and pre-built integrations that help it develop customized digital ordering and loyalty programs.

“Restaurant technology evolved rapidly out of necessity during the pandemic,” O’Dell says. “Many of our restaurant clients fast-tracked their order ahead platform plans to meet the needs of the moment … It’s clear that digital is here to stay, and restaurant brands will need to become experts in an omnichannel experience.” 

One emerging trend she believes warrants more attention is the potential impact of electric vehicle (EV) charging on the restaurant industry.

“There is a genuine and growing opportunity for restaurant brands to harness the rising EV trend through order-ahead services, targeted marketing, location-based promotions, and other digital innovations to drive traffic from EV customers,” she says. 

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