digital technology

Will digital technology hinder or enhance your business?

By Jo-Ann McArthur

Last month I told you how Millennials are disrupting your business. This month I’m exploring the many ways new technology is causing its own disruption in our industry. From mobile apps to Virtual Reality, digital tech is changing the landscape for guests and owners alike.

So, what is the role of digital and technology in the restaurant and foodservice industry, and how can you integrate them effectively, and profitably, into your business?

Mobile apps speed up the process, but do they devalue the experience?

Over the last five years, technology has dramatically changed how diners interact with their favourite restaurants. Online ordering apps allow them to order in advance and skip the line, or have their food delivered to them where they want it, when they want it. Not to mention restaurant reservations made without talking to a front of house staff member.

It seems convenience is king, especially in the quick-serve market. According to Mintel data, 51 per cent of U.S. diners agree that QSRs should offer mobile apps for ordering food. Your new restaurant could be an app rather than a bricks-and-mortar location, and be a low-overhead catalyst for new growth.

Most of this technology has been outsourced to big tech platforms like Ritual, Foodora, and Opentable. But if the experience is lacking, and your food ends up cold and upside down after a long bicycle ride, your customer is going to blame your restaurant, not the courier delivery platform.

Rather than using your standard take-out container, invest a little from some of the overhead you are saving to optimize your packaging. Ensuring your meals arrive at the right temperature with the food’s quality and integrity intact creates a favourable customer experience.

Reacting to the markets and adjusting prices on the fly

Market prices are consistent only in that they are always changing. What about dynamic menu pricing to compensate?

Why not? We have the data and technology to do that now – think surge pricing for restaurant seatings or the reverse of the Early Bird Special. And as market prices change for your food inputs, could you dynamically change your pricing to maintain your profit margin? Really, it’s not so different from “market price” for the catch of the day.

In QSRs the hardware is already in place in the form of digital menu boards. A tablet-based menu for sit-down diners could also allow for easy price adjustments.

AI & VR will change the way restaurants function, both front and back of house

digital technology

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality technology are mainstreaming as the prices of these technologies fall.

For a menu upgrade, instead of flat photos of a dish, see what Kabaq is doing for fine dining. Using advanced scanning technologies to create lifelike 3D models, Kabaq enables users to see virtual food on their table in-restaurant and online. Knowing exactly what to expect could boost sales for less familiar dishes, and break language barriers.

VR technology has advanced to the point where it can now assist in training staff. New hires don a headset and begin their interactive training in a simulated environment, allowing for “hands-on” training, but without risk to people or property. KFC recently used a VR escape room where employees could exit once they could prepare the iconic chicken. That’s a far cry from the pseudo-hip Wendy’s training videos from the ‘80s currently going viral on social media.

Virtual Reality can also play a role in engaging your customers’ senses while dining, whether in your physical establishment, or ordering in. It allows for far deeper storytelling for your ingredients than a blurb on a menu. That wine from a small island in the Mediterranean – rather than tell your customer about the terroir and care that goes into the bottle, you can show them. Food with a story and a provenance has been proven to command higher prices on the menu.

Seamless integration for enhanced CX

The bottom line is that you don’t want your customers to think about the technology you’re employing. It needs to enhance your customer’s interaction with your business, while remaining as frictionless as possible.

Restaurants, as ever, need to deliver not just tasty food, but also enjoyable dining experiences. Technology can be a means to that end, but it should not be the end itself.

About the author:

Jo-Ann McArthur is the President and Founding Partner of Nourish, a marketing agency that specializes in Food & Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service, and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Jo-Ann can be contacted at [email protected], or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at: