Tech Investments That Will Help Restaurant Operators Grow Their Business

After a whirlwind of economic impacts in the past three years, restaurant operators are feeling more optimistic about the future — and current forecasts support this newfound perspective. The National Restaurant Association’s State of the Restaurant Industry report for 2023 found that operators are now in a “growth mindset” for this year and beyond as they see conditions continue stabilizing to pre-2020 levels, and even surpassing them. The Association predicts foodservice will reach $997B in sales this year, a vast increase compared to 2019’s $863B in sales. Job growth is another indicator of a healthy industry, with 500,000 new jobs expected and the overall workforce surpassing pre-pandemic employment levels as well.

Operators planning for growth are looking into new technology solutions that will help them get where they want to be, while also facing continuing challenges such as high food prices, staffing levels and increased competition. At a time when complex technologies like artificial intelligence are made increasingly accessible to even the smallest of eateries, there’s a lot of chatter and promises made about their return on investment. For operators looking at tech solutions to grow their business, it’s important to understand what new technology can put them at an advantage, what existing solutions can be repurposed — and what may not be worth the investment right now.

AI Grows in Popularity — But Can It Grow Profits?

Thanks to innovations like ChatGPT, artificial intelligence is making a big splash in many industries, with people wondering to what degree it can replace human tasks and improve products and services. Similar AI technologies can be helpful for operators who are in need of free or low-cost creative solutions to help them stay competitive. Marketing materials and social media presence, for example, help keep a restaurant at top-of-mind for customers, but operators may not always have the funding or time to regularly develop content. In cases like this, ChatGPT can help create materials for upcoming deals and events, or write a week’s worth of social media posts, that operators can use as-is or with quick edits to add a touch of personalization.

There are more AI products developed specifically for the restaurant industry, but interested operators should take care to match their establishment’s long-term needs and assess whether other technologies are a better fit. For example, AI phone answering systems can take calls, schedule reservations and answer any questions a caller may have. These can be great for establishments where staff frequently can’t make it to the phone, but other solutions may provide a better ROI, such as online ordering and reservation systems. People who call generally want to speak to a real person as soon as possible — especially older clientele — so in these cases, it may be more efficient to move as many inquiries as possible online. This reduces the time staff spend on the phone and ensures that incoming calls are easily redirected online or are resolved with a friendly staff member.

Retrofit Pandemic-Era Technologies For Current Needs

Technology helped restaurants meet the moment when COVID-19 forced new safety standards in 2020 and afterward. Contactless ordering reduced the risks for staff and diners alike while also helping restaurants survive high unemployment levels. These safety concerns certainly still exist, but three years later, many people are resuming normal life, yet are now accustomed to the presence of technology in (and out of) restaurants. With the immediate dangers of the pandemic behind us, and staffing levels increasing, operators can now take these existing technologies and use new software to leverage their full potential.

The National Restaurant Association survey found that over half of all customers consider off-premises dining essential and expect technology to be present when they order and pay. To remain competitive and provide the customer service that patrons now expect, restaurants need to meet these customers where they are. Many restaurants have adopted online ordering services and installed tablets for on-site ordering in the last few years, and these are swiftly becoming essential technologies for restaurants.

But beyond customer service, these platforms can provide a level of insight into customer behavior that wasn’t always so readily available. In turn, operators can use these technologies to optimize their marketing efforts. For example, an operator might go through a few weeks’ worth of ordering data and find that customers are ordering appetizers more frequently now than at the start of the dataset. They can respond to this new behavior by using both their online ordering systems and tableside tablets to push deals on appetizers. This puts restaurants in a sweet spot of meeting customers where they are, using reliable data to anticipate what they want to order and how they like to do it — all coming together to increase restaurant revenue and customer satisfaction.

Technology Will Bolster Operators’ Growth Mindsets

With the abundance of technology available today, it’s important for operators to discern what will improve their operations, and what might not be worth the financial or time investment. Tech has carried restaurants through difficult times, and as conditions continue to stabilize, it can also help staff better perform their duties and increase revenue opportunities. For those looking to grow this year, they can do so by rethinking how they use the technology they already have and making the most out of advanced technologies freely available to them.