IT and the Restaurant experience
Published 09 December 2019
By Peter Backman
We live in a world where it seems that our every action involves technology. And eating out is no exception.
Eating in a restaurant is a personal, relationship-driven activity and, in theory, IT, being transactional and “hard”, shouldn’t have anything to do with the restaurant experience. Yet, in reality, it most definitely does, and, in most cases, it enhances the experience. In fact, I would argue that IT is so integrated now, that we don’t even notice ...
Before even choosing the meal customers have to choose where to eat. In the past they would make this decision based on relationships – perhaps they’d eaten there before, they’d read a review in a newspaper, or a friend had recommended it.
Around the time of the first dotcom boom in 2000, the arrival of OpenTable and the TripAdvisor changed everything by allowing customers to assess restaurants, chose which to go to and then book their table. And now, with the help of information generated from many sources such as these, restaurants, use social media and direct messaging to entice customers with carefully targeted and curated offers.
The meal itself
Once in the restaurant, the meal experience begins with choosing and ordering the food. McDonald’s (and others) have refined this opportunity so that you can place your order on a kiosk screen. Other operators, such as pub chain Wetherspoons in the UK, allow the customer to order directly from a smartphone app, without ever leaving their table. You can even “click and collect” with internet-enabled services from MealPal, Zomato and similar offers.
Having chosen what to eat, the restaurant has to prepare the food. Technology, even in pre-internet days, has always played a significant role in food preparation with heavy investment in ovens, ranges, refrigerators and the rest. This equipment is now increasingly loaded with IT to allow it to monitor processes and take action as required – switching itself off, requesting a service, or signalling some sort of failure. And with the “internet of things”, kitchen equipment is taking on even more sophisticated roles such as sharing best practice between kitchens.
Once the food has been prepared, it has to be delivered to the customer. In the ‘olden days’ this was where personal service – delivered by real people – came into play.
Of course, and very notably, delivery has acquired a very different meaning nowadays with increasing numbers of orders being delivered somewhere other than in the restaurant. Restaurant delivery has become the most noteworthy issue in the sector because it’s disrupting business models and changing the financial, and personal, dynamics of the sector. IT has a significant role to play in this process – from discovery to ordering, to communicating the order to the kitchen, through to communicating with the rider and the customer.
After the meal
After the meal, comes the payment; the most painful part? The pain is not generally in the passing over of the money (after all, it’s no surprise). No, the pain comes from the actual process of making the payment, from the need to ask for the bill to checking the amount, and , if in a sharing party, calculating the share, working out the tip and then making the actual payment (nowadays generally by card). IT has been developed to play a key role in all these small steps. This is where many companies like WorldPay have changed the way we end the meal, often ending the relationship with the restaurant on a positive note, that may previously have ended negatively.
And now the meal is over, the customer can Instagram pictures of the food and of their friends enjoying it, they can post their views and opinions on social media, give feedback to the restaurant via TripAdvisor, or Yumpingo, rate the restaurant, the food and the service and provide plenty of influence for the next time anyone decides to eat out. This really underlines the importance of IT in the customer journey from start to finish and beyond.
So, my conclusion is that IT is very much integrated into the eating out experience – it’s constantly working in the background. There’s no doubt It will continue to evolve over the coming to further enhance the customer experience – the question is precisely how will it will do this? Where will we go from here …?
Peter Backman is a noted international restaurant analyst and consultant. He is the founder of his eponymous agency and a member of the GRIF Advisory Board