Report: Diners Crave Complementary Technology

Diners have increasingly high expectations for their entire restaurant experience, from making a reservation to paying the check, according to a “Diners of the Future” report from SevenRooms.
With more than half of Americans (51 percent) wanting their server to remember them from a previous visit to make a dining experience stand out, restaurants are expected to deliver that personalization at scale. Advanced technology like AI-powered chatbots, voice-powered assistants and software that collects guest data helps restaurants achieve these high standards, but needs to be implemented with a human-forward approach as guests get increasingly familiar with these new technologies.
The study, conducted with third party research firm YouGov, examined diners’ expectations around the use of technology in the restaurant industry.
“The ubiquity of technology and personalization in our daily lives has created an urgency for restaurants to evolve with guests’ expectations,” says Joel Montaniel, CEO of SevenRooms. “Diners expect the conveniences and personalization that technology offers, but want it implemented with a human touch so it doesn’t overshadow the personal elements of an exceptional dining experience. It’s more important than ever to understand and accommodate the forward-thinking diner by enhancing the experience through technology without removing the human element.”
Joel Montaniel
For U.S. diners, personalization is and always has been a top priority, with 1 in 4 (25 percent) Americans wanting the ability to request the same waiter/waitress who already knows their food, drink and table preferences, and 1 in 5 (20 percent) diners wanting to book a reservation at a restaurant that could create a personalized menu for them based on their preferences.
Understanding the audience is crucial for the future of dining, particularly when integrating technology.
In order to provide these experiences to guests, restaurants are strategically implementing new technology into their everydayoperations. The challenge is in walking a fine line between implementing advanced technology the new generation of guests is comfortable using, while ensuring existing diners still feel the familiarity in these dining experiences, without noticing it running in the background. 
The report revealed that adoption of the new wave of these technologies is still in its infancy. In fact, Americans have just begun to embrace high-tech integrations that drastically enhance various aspects of their dining experience. Currently, six percent of Americans would use an AI-powered chatbot when researching a restaurant and 10 percent would use a voice-powered assistant when researching a restaurant. However, it’s expected to increase greatly, with a recent study citing that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.
Five years ago, social media wasn’t at all prevalent in the industry, yet today twenty-six percent of Americans would use social media to research a restaurant. Although only seven percent of people say they would use a virtual/augmented reality device to see the restaurant’s atmosphere before booking today, it’s clear that in the years to come, this advanced technology will make its way into diners’ everyday lives.
Understanding the audience is crucial for the future of dining, particularly when integrating technology. While some diners are still in the early stages of technology adoption, the millennial generation has been the most willing to adopt technology in their everyday lives, especially when it comes to restaurants.
In fact, compared to Americans over 55 years old, millennials are:
  • Almost four times more interested in using a virtual/augmented reality device to research a restaurant
  • Three times more likely to want to place a restaurant reservation through social media
  • Three times more likely to favor card-less payments at a restaurant
  • Five times more likely to be persuaded by smart capabilities to book a reservation at a particular restaurant
Technology is a vital factor in how restaurants interact with their guests, both now and in the future, which makes it more important than ever to find the right balance between forward-thinking and familiarity. By evolving with their guests and enhancing the experience from behind the scenes, restaurants can deliver personalization at scale for everyone, leading to happy guests today and in the future.
To delve deeper into the survey findings, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine quizzed SevenRooms. 
In what ways can restaurants bridge that balance between technological convenience and the human touch?
Guests want a special, personalized experience when they visit a restaurant — from being greeted by name, to being offered a tailored food recommendation which, for example, took their allergies into account. A lot of these personal touches have historically been delivered only for a restaurant’s most loyal customers and only by a few staff members who keep all this valuable data in their heads.
Technology and data are the tools that restaurants have available now that enable them to deliver these personal touches at scale. Diners want the benefits technology provides in the dining space, but prefer it is kept in the background. Our recent research reiterated this, with diners agreeing that too much technology can overwhelm their experience, and want it applied with an almost invisible touch.
Restaurants can balance technological convenience and the human touch by ensuring that the goal of any front-of-house technology platform is to make a better dining experience for the guests, and not just a better operational experience for the restaurant.
Operators should ask themselves: Does this technology platform make their staff better at understanding and anticipating the needs of guests? And, do these data-driven experiences make the guest feel more connected? If the answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’, then the data is being used in a way that is authentic to the restaurant, without overshadowing the human touch people expect when dining.
The idea of increased personalization goes along with the trend toward seeking experiences. But how does a restaurant effectively tailor to guests without going into an operational quicksand or stretching their brand?
Creating a personalized experience is important, and people have now come to expect it when dining out. While it’s crucial that restaurants evolve and keep up with these expectations by creating experiences that stand out to guests, they must also walk a fine line between doing what’s best for their business, while also taking the needs and wants of their customers into account. However, with the right technology in place providing actionable data, restaurants can achieve personalization at scale in an operationally efficient way. 
When it comes to guest experience, sometimes the smallest actions, like saying ‘welcome back’, can have the biggest impact. In fact, 51 percent of Americans say that a server remembering them from a previous visit would make their dining experience stand out. 
While nothing will replace a maitre d’ with 10+ years of experience at your restaurant, technology can help improve operations across an entire restaurant team. By knowing a guest’s name, food and drink preferences, birthday and more, operators can greet them upon arrival, recommend dishes they know they will enjoy, or even offer a round of prosecco for a special occasion. With these insights, restaurants can invite guests to tailored special events, like wine tastings, that would specifically appeal to them. Plus, by selling these custom experiences in advance through a platform like SevenRooms, operators not only capture revenue in advance, which is a huge benefit, but they also have access to a trove of information that enables them to be more operationally efficient — from knowing how many staff to have working that evening, to how much of a particular ingredient to order from a supplier. This ensures a guest has the best experience possible, helping to boost repeat visits while directly impacting a restaurant’s bottom line.
How do restaurateurs learn more about technology to better serve their guests now and in the future?
With new technologies coming to market all the time, it can often feel impossible to stay up to date with what’s new, and, more importantly, what’s really having an impact and is something that an operator should aware of. But there are two different, and equally important, things to consider when researching new technology: what are the technologies that will positively impact my business, and which provider’s product is best suited for my restaurant.
There are a lot of ways restaurateurs can learn more about new technologies. Trade resources like this publication and others, do a great job of highlighting what’s new.  Many tech companies themselves, including SevenRooms, produce a vast amount of content that is designed to educate and inform, more than sell a specific product. These resources, including webinars and industry white papers, are generally free and easily accessible. But it’s critical not to forget the basics, which are arguably the most important. Restaurateurs should definitely talk to their peers in the industry and get their recommendations, and also ask for multiple customer referrals from the technology companies themselves.
However, equally important to knowing what’s out there, is knowing which provider will be best for your business. It really is true that the right technology partner can make all the difference. Even if two competing technology products offer the same suite of features, the experience working with various companies can be vastly different. It is critical that a technology partner is flexible, can understand your business and current challenges, and be willing to work with you to provide customized solutions that work with your unique operation. Restaurants don’t fit nicely into a “one size fits all” model, and it’s important for operators to look for tech companies that take a consultative, people-based approach to their business.
SevenRooms commissioned YouGov PLC to poll the views of 1,108 individuals who agreed to take part. Fieldwork was undertaken online between April 3-4, 2018. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).