Ambient Tech Is The Future of Restaurants

Restaurant technology adoption has accelerated throughout the pandemic, shifting digital tools from futuristic nice-to-haves into critical components of day-to-day operations. Adopting in-house technologies became necessary for restaurants to stay open throughout the pandemic, restart operations after temporary closures, and pivot services to maintain revenue while still following enhanced health and safety protocols. These tools have become so commonplace that many have become an extension of the restaurant experience — so integrated into dining culture that employees and guests do not necessarily realize how tech-savvy they have become.

Too Much Tech Is Not a Solution

Point of Sale (POS) systems have traditionally been the restaurant’s technological centerpiece, connecting guests, servers, and food through transactions.  As the possibility of joining countless establishments that had crumbled under the weight of the pandemic became more real, restaurants across the country quickly hopped on board the latest tech trends to optimize services and keep the lights on.

Technology adoption across the industry has continued to surge; restaurants are juggling upwards of 10 pieces of tech to maintain regular operations. However, adopting tech for the sake of appearing modern is not the solution. Restaurants will find that too many single-solution digital tools can end up costing more than the revenue they bring in. As owners strategize how to spend their budgets, it is imperative they consider the importance of quality over quantity, curating a tech toolbelt capable of driving revenue and improving the customer experience while helping restaurants remain profitable. 

As such, an industry migration is underway. Restaurants are moving away from bulky point-solutions toward cohesive platforms that seamlessly integrate various tools to streamline ordering and service, food preparation, and payment. This shift is breaking new ground for business owners and changing how employees experience their work.

Want to be Tech-Savvy? Start with Your Staff

One of the most important things to consider when adopting new tools is how they will integrate with your current platform to create a better experience for staff and guests without costing more than they are worth.

From an insider’s perspective, the restaurant industry looks substantially different compared to ten years ago, and owners and operators need to keep this top of mind. Employees joining the industry for the first time will not realize the incredible technological upgrade the industry has undergone. Gone are the days of archaic paper chit systems communicating orders from the front to back-of-house staff. Today’s kitchen display systems (KDS) make it easy for cooks across stations throughout the kitchen to see orders as they come in and time food preparation accordingly. This technology replaces the constant yelling typical of the back-of-house with a friendlier digital screen and mitigates the risk of food waste and costly errors. 

As owners strategize how to spend their budgets, it is imperative they consider the importance of quality over quantity, curating a tech toolbelt capable of driving revenue and improving the customer experience while helping restaurants remain profitable. 

Front-of-house staff are also receiving upgrades to their tools, integrating directly with back-of-house systems to optimize service. Advanced POS systems allow hosts to digitally keep track of server sections and table wait times, while servers equipped with personal tablets can complete orders directly from the table. Online ordering tools can integrate into an in-house platform, reducing wait times and allowing restaurants to reach more customers.

What does this mean for those entering the industry? Staff roles are evolving within restaurants, demanding a new skill set from workers as establishments increasingly equip new digital tools. While this might make some prospective employees wary about entering a new role, the reality is people in general have become so digitally connected, so accustomed to a smartphone as an extension of their arm, that the digitization of restaurant roles is the obvious next step in this massive industry shift. 

We are seeing this shift in real-time. Despite some concerns, technology is not replacing workers. Rather, certain roles are being redesigned and reimagined to continue offering the face-time critical to quality customer service, regardless of ordering and payment automation. 

For instance, advanced, integrated online ordering tools have enhanced the pick-up experience, providing a seamless face-to-face curbside delivery offering. At first glance, QR-code menus or tableside tablets may appear to reduce server-guest interaction. In reality, they streamline ordering, freeing up time for servers to offer quality conversation and ensure a memorable guest experience that guarantees customers return. The increased attention on customer service makes it easy to forget that critical behind-the-scenes tools have made this possible.

The Future of Restaurants Is in Ambient Technology

As roles shift and the customer experience evolves, tech-savvy restaurants have already become the expectation. Where does that lead? The next anticipated shift is toward ambient technology — a reimagining and hyper-personalization of the restaurant experience.

To offer ambient technology, restaurants must first establish trust. The buy-ten-get-one-free punch cards of yesteryear have been replaced by digital apps and enhanced customer loyalty programs. By consenting to provide limited personal data, customers gain convenience and technology becomes an ambient experience. Through personalized recommendations and saved orders, these loyalty programs help customers make decisions, driving the experience forward without requiring much thought about the technology being used.

An Expectation, Not Just a Convenience

Customers increasingly demand convenience above all else, making a seamless, tech-forward restaurant experience a requirement, rather than the norm.  For an industry that has historically operated on razor-thin profit margins, adopting the right technology to ensure profitability can be an expensive pursuit.

Consumers want hyper-personalized experiences, but they also still crave in-person interactions. To offer the best of both worlds, restaurants will need to blend the charm of tableside service with the futuristic technology needed to power continued evolution. The challenge comes from investing in technology that attracts and retains new guests, drives sales from existing guests, and increases the quality of service — all without feeling like technology at all.