April 4, 2024

The Interactive Restaurant Delivers Profit and Efficiency

The interactive restaurant is a model whose time has come.

Image of Interactive Restaurant

The interactive restaurant is a model whose time has come.

When restaurant online ordering skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry wondered if consumer behaviors were evolving. However, a few years after restaurant shutdowns, consumers have proven they aren’t willing to give up the experience of dining out. Deloitte research shows that 55% of consumers are dining in restaurants as much as or more than a few years ago. Interestingly, 69% also get takeout or delivery just as often as they did during the pandemic. Overall, the demand for restaurant service has increased.

Furthermore, the restaurant industry began to face a serious labor shortage. QSR magazine reports that when restaurants closed during the pandemic, some workers took advantage of employment opportunities in other sectors. Still, others chose not to return to the workforce, particularly if they were at or close to retirement age or if rising childcare costs outpaced wages. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), these factors have resulted in 62% of restaurants reporting they don’t have enough labor to meet demand. To overcome this challenge, more restaurants are exploring how technology can create interactive restaurant environments that decrease the need for employees to manage processes and give consumers more control of their dining experiences.

Technologies that Create the Interactive Restaurant Environment

Restaurants can choose from a variety of solutions to streamline customer-facing processes and give customers the convenience and autonomy they crave. Restaurants can build a connected ecosystem of tech solutions that includes:

  • Digital menus

    Fact: menus change. When restaurants rely on printed menus, they need to incur expenses to update them or rely on servers to communicate specials or the items that their staff had to 86. The task becomes more time-consuming and costly when a business must update menus in multiple locations.

    Digital menus, which display items on large screens in fast casual or quick service restaurants (QSRs) or on smaller screens in table service restaurants, allow operators to instantly make updates across all locations to reflect current availability and pricing.

    Diners always have current information, and touchscreen signage can even provide customers with nutritional or allergy information to help them make informed choices. Moreover, digital menus can positively impact sales: 91% of consumers say digital menus have influenced their decisions, giving businesses a 38% bump in sales.

  • Self-ordering

    Entering an order is easy with touchscreen technology, so it isn’t necessary for an employee to assist customers. Self-service kiosks allow diners to browse menus at their own pace, place orders, and pay on their own. Restaurants benefit by having more freedom to allocate labor to essential tasks. However, they also often benefit from an increase in revenue. Self-service kiosks can be configured for automatic upselling, often contributing to up to 38% higher sales.

    Although self-service kiosks are more common in QSRs, table service restaurants are also deploying kiosks or tablets at the table to meet customer demand. About 80% of consumers say they prefer to order on their own at all types of restaurants.

    Additionally, restaurants can adapt these solutions to complement their processes. For example, they can make touchscreens available for guests to order drinks or refills but have a server provide personalized service when taking food orders.

  • Frictionless payment

    Interactive restaurant technology must give customers a convenient, easy way to pay. Businesses can implement various technologies to enable self-payment. Kiosk solutions can include near-field communication (NFC) card readers that allow contactless and mobile wallet payments. Restaurants can even offer biometric payment options, such as facial recognition or infrared palm vein scanning for simple, secure, touchless payments that don’t even require customers to bring a wallet or smartphone with them when they dine.

    Payment choice is important to consumers and, therefore, to competitiveness. A PYMNTS study found it’s the most influential factor when choosing a merchant.

  • Smart tables

    In addition to interactive restaurant technology that automates customer-facing processes, it can also engage and entertain. When guests aren’t browsing a digital menu or placing orders from the tabletop, the durable screen can keep them entertained with games, social media, or other apps.

While a next-gen interactive restaurant operates with new efficiency and opens a new world of digital experiences for diners, it also gives business owners greater visibility. Devices from self-service kiosks to interactive screens and payment technology collect data that the business can use to understand its processes and customers better. Restaurants can use this data for effective, personalized marketing and increased operational efficiency, improving the bottom line.

Technologies that Enhance Operations

Interactive restaurant technology isn’t limited to enhancing customer experiences. Other solutions are designed for back-of-house efficiency, such as:

  • Interactive floor maps

    Harvard Business Review points out that most restaurants follow the round-robin seating rule, seating guests in zones in circular order with no particular priority. However, intelligent floor map solutions can use historical data, server performance stats, and table status to assign tables. Automating seating saves time, but it can also increase sales by up to 9%.

  • Kitchen display systems

    Writing orders on paper is slow and error-prone and isn’t sustainable. Furthermore, orders may come from third-party platforms, the restaurant’s website, a mobile app, or other source in an omnichannel business, which is complex to manage manually.

    A kitchen display system (KDS) integrated with the restaurant’s point of sale (POS) system immediately communicates orders to the kitchen, informing the right food prep stations and automatically setting priorities so all items are ready and appetizing at the same time.

    A touchscreen KDS solution allows employees to swipe items on the screen when they’re complete or canceled rather than using a bump bar, thereby conserving valuable space in the kitchen.

  • Restaurant robots

    Some businesses are taking restaurant automation to a higher level with restaurant robots. Solutions are available for food prep, serving guests at tables, bussing and cleaning, and automating drink service. Robotics also enable delivery automation. Analysts also expect that drones and driverless cars will manage more restaurant order delivery in the coming years, which Deloitte research found 47% of consumers find acceptable.

    Automating tasks with robots can save restaurants between 30% and 70% in labor costs. However, in light of the labor shortage, they may be even more valuable by covering work a business can’t find employees to perform. Instead, employees armed with tablets can manage multiple automated systems, increasing their productivity.

Build the “Restaurant of the Future, Today

For decades, visionaries have imagined the fully automated restaurant, but in the 2020s, it’s finally possible. The question is whether it’s right for your business. Strategically deciding which processes to automate and which to entrust to your employees is a smart way to address challenges, enhance customer experiences, and optimize operations.

Contact the experts at Elo to learn more about interactive restaurant technology and how to implement it for the greatest value to your business.