restaurant technology

The future of restaurants is tech-savvy

Redesigning restaurants to outlast the pandemic

By Brittain Brown

The restaurant experience of yesteryear is long gone, as COVID-19 forces changes to operations and service standards that are sure to outlast the longevity of the pandemic.

The new normal of restaurants is here to stay and the pandemic continues to rear its ugly head, with rising cases forcing further devastating setbacks for many businesses. As such, the restaurant experience is being redesigned and futurized to not only withstand the current challenges of the pandemic but also to exceed changing customer demands that will define the future of restaurants.

Technology to enhance safety

Pandemic-induced restrictions on restaurants have forced establishments across the country to re-evaluate and enhance their safety measures. In the interest of public safety — and keeping the lights on — many restaurants quickly turned to technology solutions to reduce high-contact surfaces and avoid any unnecessary risk of virus-spreading.

Digitizing order-taking and payments, for instance, has had a dramatic impact on reducing touchpoints throughout establishments. No longer reliant on physical menus that were frequently shared, and likely less frequently sanitized, restaurants have come out in droves to adopt digital menus accessible via tableside QR-codes. With smartphones in hand, guests have instant access to online menus without safety risk. Implementing restaurant technology like contactless payment options completes the guest experience, a value-add for guests that is sure to outlast the pandemic.

Of course, heightened safety protocols extend beyond guests, and added measures are being adopted to ensure the safety of employees as well. Traditional point of sale (POS) systems are shared between front-of-house staff, creating high-touchpoint safety hazards. Instead, the adoption of tablets for order-taking allows servers the use of a personal device. These personal tablets offer the added bonus of immediately placing orders from the table, improving efficiency and reducing the risk of costly errors as a result of food waste.

Digitizing to reduce costs

With restaurants surviving on thin margins long before the pandemic, the current restrictions have forced restaurant owners to re-evaluate their expenditures and adopt systems that streamline efficiency and reduce costs — or risk becoming one of the many restaurants nationwide that have been forced to shutter their doors permanently.

While tablets that serve as personal POS systems prevent costly errors by the front-of-house, kitchen display systems (KDS) streamline orders for the back-of-house. By digitizing the receiving end of orders and doing away with the traditional paper chit system, food preparation is made more efficient and less at risk of error.

Whereas the chit system often relies on manually organizing chits, sharing them between kitchen stations, and risking misplacing them and stalling service, user-friendly technology like kitchen display systems (KDS) are being adopted to support kitchen staff and mitigate the risk of error. Kitchen display systems streamline food preparation by automatically calculating cooking times and queuing up orders. Their ease of use helps create entry-level jobs and allows restaurants to overcome the challenges of finding experienced staff. As restaurants survive and recover from the pandemic, utilizing technology and maintaining cost-saving strategies will be imperative to rebuilding momentum.

Creating pandemic-proof restaurants

While many restaurants have implemented technology to improve their efficiency and otherwise operate business-as-usual, others are completely redesigning what the restaurant experience looks like. As customers demand enhanced safety measures and increasingly opt for convenience, restaurants like Toronto’s Box’d are using automation to reinvent the experience, completely removing the need for front-of-house staff. The redesigning of the restaurant model to offer digital ordering and contactless pick-up is a pandemic-proof means of successfully operating despite ongoing restrictions on restaurants. The new normal of restaurants will continue to evolve as customers become accustomed to the convenience that automation offers.

Technology adoption in restaurants is not a short-term solution to the devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the industry; it’s the defining feature of the future of restaurants. With the possibility of additional restrictions and closures, adopting technology is crucial in streamlining services to keep costs down and ensure the safety of employees and guests alike.

With consumers’ growing expectations for unwavering safety measures and added convenience, the new normal of restaurants is here to stay. Restaurant technology solutions will need to be adopted and operators must change with the times if they hope to be part of the industry’s future.

Brittain Brown is president of Givex. Since joining Givex in 2003, he has held various managerial roles in the National Accounts and Operations divisions and has been responsible for some of the company’s largest client successes. As president, Brown has driven Givex’s international expansion efforts and overseen the successful acquisition of new additions to the Givex family of companies.