The Current State of Restaurant Tech
I’m thankful to have been asked to participate in Food+Tech Connect’s Hack//Dining online conversation because it gives me an opportunity to put into words all of the trends, excitement, and change I’ve seen in the restaurant + technology space so far. My contribution, titled Four Ways Technology Improves the Dining Out Experience, explains on a broad level, the trends, ideas, and changes I’ve seen in the restaurant + tech space so far. Most importantly, for a new business or idea to succeed, it needs to serve at least one (but hopefully more) of the following purposes: discovery, efficiency, novelty, or understanding. You can read a whole lot more about these ideas, including a few examples of those who are smartly taking advantage of the market.
It’s an exciting time for food-tech; very excited to be a part of it.
Here We Go Mainstream: Tablet Ordering Mania
The New York Times is on a tear talking about restaurant technology this week. Recently in the business section: some notes on about digital ordering in fast-casual restaurants (like Chilis and Panera). The piece details “new” technology, from order-ahead apps to touchscreens on the table. Why invest in this technology? According to the CEO of Panera Bread, “The goal is to eliminate friction points so that customers have a better experience.” Sounds like something we’ve heard before.
A hospitality consultant adds: “If I get a promotion for a new appetizer or a coupon over my app, the restaurant that offered it better have the supplies in inventory and a kitchen system that can produce it when I want it.” Duh? I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in an industry that incorporates coupons or deals or offers of any kind, but digital or paper or delivered by carrier pigeon, you better be able to deliver on the thing you promised your customers. Isn’t that basic business ethics, consultant?
Snark aside, mainstream adoption of this stuff says something about the digital-turned-human interactions and how consumers are becoming so used to online-to-offline interactions that they have now come to expect this type of service. It just makes sense.
So About Those Pay-for-a-Reservation Apps…
No restaurant tech trend is as polarizing as the wave of pay-for-reservation apps. For a long time, a reservation was a courtesy; a plan. But as restaurants grow in popularity and become destinations in their own right (instead of, say, a place to go before a show or a party or a bar or any other event), the reservation becomes the start of the show. Landing a table at the right time is an art, and several companies have found ways to capitalize on it, while giving restaurants a cut of the profit.
I’ve covered this nearly to exhaustion and it’ll be a while until we see where this trend goes. Until then, the New York Times (on it!) tackles the idea in its Opinion pages, offering different perspectives from a chef, an economist, a food editor, and a restaurant owner. The interesting thing about this debate, to me, is that I can see the arguments from all sides. This is such a brand new idea and literally changes some of the social interactions around restaurants; it will likely take some time for everyone to get used to it.
One contributor, Chef Alex Stupak of C+T favorite Empellon, was not happy with the way his opinion was represented by the Times — likely after some level of editing and commenter/community backlash. He addressed it on Twitter with a series of Tweets; the issue seems to have blown over for now.
Italian Espresso on the ISS
In a loose interpretation of “chefs+tech” but still all kinds of awesome: when Italy’s first female astronaut joins the International Space Station, she’ll have access to “authentic Italian espresso” Lavazza created the “ISSpresso,” specifically for use on the ISS. It makes espresso, coffee, and a few other beverages, apparently. I mean… if you’re going to be up there, I can imagine that creature comforts are worth their weight in gold.
(PS, YAY, first female Italian astronaut. You rock!)
Great stuff down here this week. Take a look.
- The most important hire for your startup: a chef? — Medium via @Sourcery
- A nice roundup from Inc magazine on what’s hot now in restaurant technology — Inc
- Fairly detailed information (including numbers) about how customers search for restaurants — NextRestaurants
- A new wine app to tell you what to drink and how much to pay — TechCrunch
- This weekend! A tech + dining hackathon in New York — Food+Tech Connect