Mike Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
A Decade Of Restaurant Technologies
The life of a restaurant operator has evolved rapidly over the last decade. As we begin in 2020, it’s important to stop and take a moment to acknowledge how far we’ve come. Many things that are regular pieces of our lives today were beginning, and others still haven’t made their way to the mainstream.
In 2009, customer-driven reputation sites like Yelp, gave operators a chance to respond to reviews publically, leveraging the start of a two-way conversation that is still happening today between restaurants and patrons. By 2011 Back of House Management platforms like Oracle started migrating to the cloud, storing the data used to calculate important information on purchases, sales, and an inventory that streamlined kitchen operations. In 2012, Facebook surpassed other sites with the largest quantity of reviews, and Apple Maps began partnering with Yelp to show reviews to consumers. In 2013, the first customer-facing Point of Sale systems began permeating the restaurant industry and our vendor, Square, released their Square Register in 2017 that revolutionized the iPad-based point-of-sale systems of its kind.
Making Smart Technology Choices
Today’s restaurant leaders are faced with endless choices as they’re tempted with the best innovations to drive their business forward. With more data available at every operator’s fingertips, the choice between remaining faithful to menu items or chasing trends is a regular conversation. Speaking of data that leads to a choice on which customer segment is most important to attract? While you’re at it, go ahead and mine the data on what their preferences are for the size of entrée, price, and method of ordering.
Operators are now choosing between which online platforms can better educate employees, and match shrinking attention spans. Investments always bring choices but now include digital ordering platform upgrades that promise our operators to access to new customer demographics, more efficient scheduling, perpetual inventory, Bluetooth temperature tracking, and alerts for everything under the sun. Partnerships are even full of choices, as operators are now choosing vendors based on blockchain practices, and their ability to trace products to the source for safety protocol.
Today’s restaurant leaders are faced with endless choices as they’re tempted with the best innovations to drive their business forward. With more data available at every operator’s fingertips, the choice between remaining faithful to menu items or chasing trends is a regular conversation.
Looking Ahead To The Future
At every turn, we should prioritize our choice to remain informed, which our industry has fared well in for a long time. The first manager to embrace a spreadsheet to produce a schedule or calculate weekly inventory pars set us on this path. Today’s equivalent of that spreadsheet is utilizing software to not only create a schedule but understand the labor capacity of our people. For those of us using digital prep lists, the next logical step is creating tables of data that can tell us average performance times and productivity by the employee.
More data empowers operators with more choices. We’ve seen innovations like this keep the manufacturing industry alive for quite some time, why not benefit from it in ours? Availability and productivity by employee data will allow fully-automated scheduling, optimized based on sales and product mix. In the near future, Artificial Intelligence will bring automated production schedules, employee schedules, and product ordering, into a new realm. Operators will laugh as they tell new up-and-comers about how we used to have to count everything in the walk-in cooler for hours.
What’s Our Plan?
As a kid, I watched The Jetsons cartoon, and it promised me that I would have a flying car by now. While flying cars still appear to be a dream of the distant future, drones and driverless vehicles delivering restaurant-prepared food is no longer fiction. Executive teams across the country are following these trends, forwarding technology and operations teams’ articles with questions like “What is our plan?”
We plan to do what restaurateurs have done for a hundred years, adopt and adapt. At scale, this is our answer to Third Party Delivery questions that proliferate every restaurant conference. There are still questions to be answered like, completing ROI models illustrating if it is better to use a service or own our own. Packaging companies will evolve to provide drone-safe, environmentally-friendly packaging, and our industry will adapt as the technology becomes more affordable.
When I started working in restaurants, technology and operations teams were segregated, and even at odds. Today, the two are the same. While our industry still struggles with the disconnection between the capability of our tech and the functionality we dream of, the gap has closed significantly. Our industry rewards leaders who are proud to call themselves both technologists and operators. Investors handsomely reward firms that can deliver innovation without deprioritizing or losing guest connection.
We may automate schedules, prep by robots, preselect food based on data and allergen profiles, and deliver it via drones to our family tables in the near future, but there will always be something special about combining select ingredients, and enjoying a flavorful and memorable meal with loved ones. Likewise, there will always be an art to compliment the science of great hospitality. Today, and in the future, the best brands have leaders who still care about their limited number of employees, and possess a passion to serve their guests.