I recently visited a restaurant and observed an elderly couple struggling to view a menu. A few minutes into their struggle, their server graciously presented them with an iPad version of the menu and showed them within a few seconds how to zoom in to read the menu better. The couple had a wonderful time viewing the menu and learning about different options. A few months ago, I gave my 93 year old grandmother my iPad when she became bed-bound. Within a couple of days, not only had she gotten the grasp of many of the apps, but she had developed a Facebook presence and often posted on the walls of our family members. A few weeks ago, she learned that she could find information about restaurants carry out options that could be delivered to her home.
As a restaurant technologist, I’m often asked by those outside the restaurant and hospitality industry why it seems that restaurants are late adopters of technology. Some will say that because many of a restaurant’s customers are still at an age where technology is illusive. Many will say that it’s the cost of implementation or the learning curve that technology demands that keep restaurant owners and managers from grasping new options. But often times, the reason new technologies don’t make it into the restaurant quickly is because restaurant owners see technology as taking away from the experience and environment they’ve put time, money, and heart into creating.
Many restaurant owners fear that by implementing technology solutions, they will lose that personal communication aspect that the restaurant relies on to increase profitability. We all know that upselling is the key to increasing sales of higher margin items such as drinks, appetizers, and desserts. The fear exists that by eliminating the power of persuasion, profits will decrease. Many solutions we have seen in the past year do indeed threaten to eliminate the personal relationship between the diner and the restaurant, but if used wisely, technology in the front of house should work to increase two things: communication and security.
The largest argument I have heard against iPad menus and ordering systems is that it only meets a segment of the dining population that is comfortable with these devices, and those objections are absolutely correct. However, imagine the scenario in which a server has just been seated with two tables. One table is less technology savvy, uncomfortable with an iPad, and perhaps unfamiliar with the menu. Another table is quite savvy and feels comfortable using the iPad to not only order, but get information about the menu items. A server’s time with a customer is already limited. By allowing the second table to view, select, and order their meals from the iPad frees up the server to spend additional time with the first table. What is the key? Training and individual response.
Training your staff on how and when to utilize technology with a customer is the key to bridging the communication gap. A growing population finds iPad and iPhone apps to be a premium method of communication between themselves and the restaurant. But there is still a large amount of restaurant customers who are uncomfortable with those technologies and would like for your server to go over the wine list with them in person. Training and encouraging your staff to meet the customer’s needs on an individual basis is the key to successfully implementing the newest and greatest technologies without leaving large segments of your customers behind.
Additionally, systems such as wireless payment systems allow those customers comfortable enough with technology to increase their own personal security. Not only does this allow the customer to feel more in control of their situation, it eliminates a degree of responsibility from your staff and decreases the allure of theft from your patrons. Again, with these systems, you will find a large number of customers who would prefer to hand your staff their entire wallet than to associate their credit or debit card with a payment application. But meeting your customer on a ground they are comfortable with is the key to maintaining a successful relationship.
Technology should never work to eliminate communication or interaction between the restaurant and the customer. Instead, technology should enhance, facilitate, and personalize the communication. When navigating through the many technology options, look for those solutions that allow you to carry the experience and environment you have built for your restaurant throughout every aspect of your customer’s visit. Your environment is the key to your own profitability, so make sure your technology solutions line up. Whether you are working with an iPad savvy 93-year old or a 50-something who fears technology, with successful staff training you can create and implement solutions that will help increase security and maximize communication for your restaurant.
Shawna Simpson is the President and Co-Founder of Diner Connection. Shawna has 15 years of experience in management and consulting in the hospitality industries, specifically in the area of implementing successful technology solutions.