Why Restaurants Should Be More ‘Empathetic’ When It Comes to Technology

Listen to your customer. It’s a golden rule that every business owner should know never to break – particularly if you’re in the world of hospitality. In an industry where word-of-mouth is your most valued marketing channel, you definitely want to hear what those mouths are saying – and use that feedback for your own decision making.

True empathetic innovation drives technology designers to sit in the seat of key stakeholders and end users.

Yet, when it comes to technology, many of today’s restaurants are forced to make decisions based not on customer preferences or operational effectiveness, but based on what they think is “required,” what’s available, and what they can afford. The result can often be a technological nightmare. 

Take for example the number of full-service restaurant operators that have scrambled to find a way to accept chip (or “EMV”) cards, which are now held by most U.S. consumers. Many of the early EMV technology “solutions,” while providing security, have proven out of place, intrusive and unrefined because they are nothing more than repurposed retail devices not developed with restaurants in mind. In other words, their construction lacked a critical trait we call empathetic innovation – or “EI.” 

True empathetic innovation drives technology designers to sit in the seat of key stakeholders and end users, immerse themselves in the environment, fully embrace users’ challenges and objectives, and understand the full impact of the technology on their experience and their customer’s. Nowhere is that more important than in a full-service restaurant setting where customer-facing technology can make or break the dining experience. A customer could have an amazing dinner and exceptional service in a memorable atmosphere, but if the payment process is long, arduous and frustrating, that final experience can suddenly leave a sour taste in their mouth about the entire night. Restaurants can’t risk that.

Yet, a number of today’s restaurant technology solutions have overlooked the importance of EI. Payment technologies have been designed as quick-fix solutions to address specific restaurant pain-points, like EMV or PCI compliance, and rushed to market – often resulting in restaurant and consumer problems, frustration, and expense rather than security, efficiency and complementing the restaurant hospitality. 

Be as critical of the technology and how it was brought to market as you are of the food you serve.

For operators, it isn’t difficult to see which platforms were developed with restaurants and their customers in mind, but it is very important for you to consider the same concepts as designers following EI prior to making a purchase. Does the solution fit elegantly within the normal flow of operations or is it disruptive to the dining experience and distracting to guests? Does it solve one problem, but create others (perhaps requiring inefficient work-arounds) or does it address multiple challenges and help multiple stakeholders without introducing new frustrations? Most importantly, what do guests think? Have you seen them use it?  Does it just get the job done or has it enhanced their overall experience? 

For us, at the end of the day, the restaurant operator is the best judge of our EI effectiveness – not some software designer who’s siloed off from the rest of the world, yet thinks he knows how to best serve the hospitality environment. Careful examination of new technology, beyond the sales calls or the simple review of an online spec sheet, can be a critical first step to smart decision making.

Even the smallest of changes to operations can have disastrous collateral impact, creating breakdowns and inefficiencies that degrade the dining experience and even cost customers. Your technology providers should recognize this and develop solutions accordingly. Be as critical of the technology and how it was brought to market as you are of the food you serve, the service you provide, and the environment you’ve created. Empathetic innovators will expect and embrace this, and their products will truly fit the bill.