Beyond Service + Hospitality

How Technology is Changing the Restaurant Industry and the Way We Dine

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Let’s take a walk-through of the guest’s experience in a restaurant before the advent of restaurant technology: guest is seated based on whichever table is open, guest orders as waitress writes items on a notepad, guest eats, guest pays and gets change from a cash register, guest leaves cash tip.

The only part of the guest experience that has been untouched by restaurant technology is eating. And even then, some restaurants offer table side tablets to keep guests occupied.

However, it’s not just the guest’s experience that has changed. Restaurant servers, chefs, and owners are all impacted by a change in back-of-house technology. And I’m not talking about your back-office server running on Windows XP. Modern POS systems, kitchen display screens, and staffing technology can now give data-driven insights into what’s performing well and what’s not performing well at your restaurant.

This is a big deal. The future of the restaurant industry — and how guests dine out — relies on these changes. In retrospect, the restaurant industry is usually 10-20 years behind every other industry when adopting technological advances. It’s normally been a one-touch experience — eating at the restaurant — but now, with restaurant loyalty programs, email marketing, and digital receipts, there are even more opportunities for a guest to interact with a restaurant, and for a restaurant to build a powerful database.

Most businesses are digital, using technology to advance their operations. Why not restaurants? Let’s take a look at how restaurant technology is influencing the restaurant industry and the way we dine out.

Major Digital Advancements in Restaurants

Digital Receipts
Receipts are no longer stored at the bottom of a guests’ pocket, to be forgotten until they show up crumpled in the wash. Now, restaurants are finding guests where they are: their inboxes or their phones. And best of all, they’re opting in to this communication. This is bringing restaurants closer than ever to their customer base.

What’s more, is that some new companies are allowing guests to take care of payment and tip through their app so that a bill never even comes to the table. One of the number one complaints restaurants get is that guests wait too long for the bill, and this could eliminate guests leaving on a negative. It’s also possible to think that this could have an effect on how we charge our guests and tracking and distributing gratuities.

POS Tablets
Note: Point of sale tablets are different from tableside tablets. POS tablets can be stationary terminals that flip to face the guest at the counter or small handheld tablets brought to the table by a server. These tablets save time by drastically reducing server trips to the terminal. Guests complete their transaction on a handheld tablet, rather than waiting for the server to pick up their credit card, run it, and return to the table. The time it takes for the guest to view their bill, tip their server, and get their receipt is faster, which means the restaurant is able to serve more people in a night. It will be most interesting to see how full service and finer dining restaurants incorporate this type of technology into the dining experience.

Kitchen Display Screens
With Kitchen Display Screens, processes can not only be easier on the guest side, but also on the chef side. Menu orders communicate seamlessly and instantly to the kitchen, and ‘missing a ticket’ is no longer a possibility. Kitchen display systems are staples now at fast food joints, but they have been advancing over the years. Cloud systems can fire items back to the kitchen instantly from the POS tablet. Some display systems “age” based on wait time, pushing the most important items to the top of your chef’s list.  Kitchen display screens can actually help chefs learn about the pace of their line; how long it takes to complete orders on average, segmented by menu group and item. This offers kitchen managers a valuable new way to think about how their kitchens operate efficiently.

Cloud-Based Labor and Sales Reporting
Your restaurant sales are the cornerstone of your business. Why only check your sales reports once a month, when it’s too late to make a change? Check them every day, from anywhere with an Internet connection, with cloud-based software. Of course, there are many myths about cloud-based POS software — namely that it’s less secure — but they have all been debunked. Ultimately, you should be able to see net sales, gratuity, tips, total guests, table turn time, labor cost percentage, payroll reports, and a breakdown of all service types and payment methods whenever you want.

Data and numbers are a universal language; no one can argue with them, if they’re accurate. With restaurateurs moving towards data-based models, they’re becoming more savvy small business owners, able to create better menus, guest experiences, and work environments.

Inventory Management
Inventory management software is a huge opportunity for restaurant owners. Many have detailed spreadsheets, which require hours of data input, with inventory costs and profit margins over the years. New technology is aiming to make inventory, including food cost percentage, easier to track and manage. That way, you have no wasted opportunities when it comes to menu engineering, and you can better impact your cost of goods sold and profitability. This is all about having accurate numbers so that owners and managers can take action in the right way at the right time. This will ultimately help the restaurant be more profitable, contributing to the growth of the business and its employees.

Restaurant Hiring
Restaurant hiring apps are also becoming more and more prevalent for restaurateurs to find their employee base where they are rather than on Craigslist. With hiring, training, and retaining restaurant staff being the #1 challenge for restaurateurs, finding the right fit for your restaurant is especially important. New technologies are finding ways to enhance what managers do well when it comes to hiring and training employees for their business in order to decrease the cost to hire and train and reduce employee turnover.

What’s Next in Restaurant Tech?

This October, EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa) took the U.S. by storm, with major credit card companies Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express issuing chip cards and fraud liability shifting from the banks to the merchant. To be safe, some restaurant owners are implementing EMV readers, which further impact the payment process. Android Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay will also influence how guests pay.

Technology in restaurants may be slower to take a strong foothold, but it isn’t going to go away. The future of the industry depends on the right people getting involved in developing new technologies for restaurants.

Ultimately, restaurant owners, workers, and guests are experiencing a huge change to dining out as we know it. What will the next restaurant technology trend be? Stay tuned for more on this topic!


About the author

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Allison Tetreault

Allison Tetreault is a food writer excited about the future of the restaurant industry; with the elimination of tipping at some restaurants, the migration to cloud-based systems, and the renewed focus on inventory management and menu pricing, it’s a progressive time for restaurateurs. When not reading up on restaurant industry news, she is managing the Toast Restaurant Management blog and creating valuable resources for restaurateurs. She is the Content Strategist for Toast, an all-in-one POS and restaurant management system with online ordering, restaurant loyalty, enterprise management, and more. Follow her on Twitter @aktetreault or LinkedIn or email her at