While many restaurant operators often find it challenging to balance investments in technology with near-term profit margins, new research from Technomic Inc. has found that consumers are open to using more gadgets when they dine out and expect restaurants to experiment with new technology.
The Chicago-based market research firm disclosed in its “Market Intelligence Report: Consumer-Facing Technology” that 51 percent of recently surveyed consumers said they consider it important for restaurants to integrate technology into their ordering capabilities. Only 3 percent of respondents expect to use technology less in restaurants in the coming year.
Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano said that consumers surveyed were most interested in seeing more tableside touch-screen devices that enable digital ordering and at-table payment, digital rewards tied to loyalty programs, and menus on iPads and other tablet devices.
“Technology can be used as a point of differentiation within the restaurant industry, especially with Millennials,” Tristano said. “Operators who stay ahead of the curve, in an increasingly competitive market, will need to evaluate the best use for the latest tech trends and decide how to integrate them into their operations in a way that’s efficient and beneficial to consumers.”
However, he added, new technologies like tablet computer menus should be complementary to restaurants’ existing customer experience, so as not to alienate diners who may prefer traditional touches like printed menus.
Operators experimenting with new platforms have reported favorable sales trends for guests eager to adopt new technology. Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Mainstreet Ventures, for example, said in a statement that its use of a tablet menu has increased sales of food and wine, and has driven a desired shift in menu mix based on food and drink pairings that its restaurants have promoted with the system’s Pairing Pro feature. Mainstreet operates steakhouse concept The Chop House in Michigan, Maryland and West Virginia, as well as Real Seafood Company in Ann Arbor and Revolution Grille in Toledo, Ohio.
Other chains, including T.G.I. Friday’s, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Sweetgreen, reported increased enrollment in their loyalty clubs and better access to rich, segmented data when they widely adopted mobile apps. By integrating their brands with global “mobile wallet” apps like Passbook or Square, restaurants such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Qdoba Mexican Grill found themselves able to consolidate mobile payments and mobile loyalty into one platform.
Even independents, such as Kitchen 67 Brann’s Café in Grand Rapids, Mich., can attract tech-savvy diners and encourage average-check-friendly ordering habits through investments in the right customer-facing technology. Every table at Kitchen 67 features wireless phone-charging stations and iPads that control a digital jukebox, and the restaurant is the first to feature a multimedia-enabled digital drink fountain from Pepsi, similar to Coca-Cola’s Freestyle.
Kitchen 67 also features high-speed Wi-Fi access, which Technomic’s survey found is among the most-used restaurant technology these days, along with LCD flat-screen televisions. In its new prototype, Wendy’s made a “Wi-Fi bar” a key feature of its new dining rooms to encourage guests to linger in the restaurant longer.
Technomic also found that technology related to ordering, coupons or special offers sent via email and text messaging have some of the highest usage rates in the industry, as 58 percent of survey respondents said they use such gadgets at least once a month. Its survey reported that consumers are most receptive to mobile- and tablet-based ordering and payment technology in casual-dining restaurants.
In general, Technomic also found, younger consumers are more interested in technology at restaurants than older diners, with consumers 18 to 44 years old being far more likely than restaurant patrons 45 or older to engage with a brand through a mobile app or touch-screen kiosk. Interest in this area was highest among Millennials, which Technomic classified as diners aged 25 to 34 years old.
Technomic based its findings for the report off of the results of a survey of 500 U.S. adult consumers.